Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao won the Oscar for best director on Sunday for Nomadland, the spare indie drama about itinerant workers, van dwellers, and other modern-day nomads who are criss-crossing their way through middle America.
Zhao’s win marks the second time a woman has won the directing award, following Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010. It is also the second-straight win for an Asian director after Bong Joon-ho’s victory last year for Parasite.
In her acceptance speech, Zhao gave special thanks to her father, who reportedly was an executive at a state-owned steel company. “When I was growing up in China, my dad and I used to play this game. We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences,” she said.
She also quoted the ancient Chinese book The Three Character Classic: “People, at birth, are inherently good.”
Zhao, who attended NYU film school, has spent her entire professional filmmaking career in the U.S., focusing on making movies about life in the rural west. Her previous film The Rider is set in the world of rodeos.
Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as a widow who embarks on a cross-country journey that takes her to an Amazon fulfillment center, a sugar beet processing center, a national park, and a Wall Drug in South Dakota.
Zhao’s next movie is Disney’s Marvel superhero blockbuster The Eternals, which is set to open in November.