Nomadland Director Chloé Zhao's Historic Oscar Win Is Censored in Her Native China

Alexia Fernández
·4 min read

Director Chloé Zhao may have made another huge dent in the glass ceiling at the 93rd Academy Awards, but China, the country of her birth, wasn't celebrating alongside her.

The Chinese government imposed a virtual news blackout and censored social media posts in China celebrating Zhao's win at Sunday's award show in Los Angeles' Union Station, according to The New York Times.

Zhao, who won for Best Director and Best Picture, became the first Chinese woman and woman of color to win the prize for directing.

There was no news about Zhao's win on China Central Television, the Xinhua News Agency, or the Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported

China's censorship forced fans of Zhao, 39, in China to use homonyms and wordplay to avoid government censors, the Times reported. Users on the site also blurred out Zhao's name and the title of the film, wrote backward, turned images on their sides and added slashes and exclamation marks between Chinese, characters to avoid censorship, according to the Times.

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The censorship might be due to a 2013 interview Zhao gave to Filmmaker magazine, in which she discussed growing up in China before attending high school in the U.K., the Times reported.

Matt Petit/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Chloé Zhao

"I get asked a lot, 'Why are you doing this?'" Zhao said at the time regarding why she tells stories. "It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being a place where there are lies everywhere."

"You felt like you were never going to be able to get out. A lot of info I received when I was younger was not true," she said. "And I became very rebellious toward my family and my background. I went to England suddenly and relearned my history. Studying political science in a liberal arts college was a way for me to figure out what is real. Arm yourself with information, and then challenge that, too."

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Chinese reporters working for Chinese-controlled news outlets and publications were ordered to refrain from covering the Oscars altogether, two anonymous employees of Beijing-based publications told the Times.

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Zhao is only the second woman to win the Oscar for Best Director after Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. The first Asian director to win was Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain in 2006.

"I've been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard, and I think it goes back to something I learned as a kid," said Zhao in her acceptance speech. "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."

"There's one that I remember so dearly; it's called 'The Three Character Classics,'" she continued, before stating the first phrase, then translating it to: "People at birth are inherently good."

Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Chloé Zhao

"Those six letters had such impact on me as a kid," recalled Zhao. "And I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true. But I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere I went in the world. So this is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do this."

"This is for you," she concluded. "You inspire me to keep going."

Zhao is certainly moving forward and is currently hard at work on the upcoming Marvel film The Eternals starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani. She will also be helming the sci-fi Western take on Dracula for Universal Pictures.

The 93rd Academy Awards aired live on Sunday, April 25, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.