Born in China, Zhao is only the second woman to win the Oscar for Best Director.
Chinese-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, who told the story of financially exhausted minivan dwellers in America’s recession-era tale Nomadland, became the first Asian woman and only the second woman. to win Sunday the award for best director at the Oscars.
It was the first Oscar for Zhao, 39, which featured real-life nomads alongside actress Frances McDormand to tell the story of older Americans who travel from job to job for trying to make a living.
Zhao was born in China and lived in Beijing until she was 14, when she went to boarding school in London. She then moved to Los Angeles where she graduated from high school and then attended film school in New York City.
Despite early excitement in China over Zhao’s appointment, a backlash began after netizens scooped up old social media posts claiming the director despised China. The ceremony is not being shown in China this year, nor in Hong Kong – a short documentary on the territory’s protests in 2019 is also up for an award.
Only two women won the Academy Award for Best Director in 93-year history. Kathryn Bigelow won the award in 2010 for war thriller The Hurt Locker.
Zhao competed this year against Emerald Fennel, the British director of Promising Young Woman, scoring the first time that two women have been nominated in the category at the same time.
She attended the Academy Awards as the frontrunner after winning trophies from the Directors Guild of America, the Golden globes, BAFTA and several groups of film critics.
British actor Daniel Kaluuya, who first gained international attention in the 2017 horror comedy Black Get Out, won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the late Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in the drama, Judas and the Black Messiah.
Kaluuya, 32, has become an Oscar favorite after also winning the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and UK BAFTA ceremonies.
Born in London to Ugandan parents, Kaluuya describes himself as a working-class child who made his first major breakthrough in the entertainment industry as a teenage actor and writer in the British television series Skins.
Black revolutionary leader Hampton, was shot dead by Chicago police in 1969 at the age of 21.
Kaluuya paid tribute to him as he held his Oscar on stage.
“What a man,” Kaluuya said. “How blessed we are to have lived in a life he did exist. Thank you for your life. “