“Nomadland” filmmaker Chloé Zhao won two Oscars during the 93rd Academy Awards: Best Director and Best Picture (she was one of the producers on the project). Zhao’s victory in the former category makes her the first Asian woman, the first Chinese woman, and the first woman of color to win the top directing prize at the Oscars. While Zhao’s Best Director win represents a historic moment for China, multiple outlets report that China reacted in near silence to the victory. Zhao was born in Beijing.
According to The Hollywood Reporter: “In the hours immediately after the ceremony, neither China’s official mouthpiece The People’s Daily, state news service Xinhua nor the populist tabloid Global Times had produced a single report on Zhao’s multiple wins at the Academy Awards…One of the exceedingly rare pieces of coverage, on private news site 163.com, actually used the occasion of her victory as an opportunity to not-so-subtly assert one of China’s most important — and contentious — geopolitical priorities. The two-line article stated that Zhao had become ‘the second Chinese filmmaker to win the best director Oscar, after Ang Lee.’ The convention of both the Oscars and the world always has been to regard Lee, who was born and raised in southern Taiwan, as a Taiwanese filmmaker, not mainland Chinese.”
Deadline reports one of the only stories on Zhao’s Oscar win was published in the Global Times with the title “’Nomadland’ Reminds Those Caught Between US-China Rivalry To Keep Faith.” Per Deadline: “[The publication] calls Zhao’s wins ‘good,” but adds, ‘We hope she can become more and more mature.’ It also notes, ‘Worsening bilateral ties are squeezing the room for cultural exchanges between peoples from the two countries. People who are trying to explore opportunities in this field will encounter troubles and disturbances unseen in the past. They will find it hard to please both sides.'”
It’s unsurprising Zhao’s Oscar wins were met with near silence in China, as the film’s marketing was censored in the weeks leading up to the 93rd Academy Awards. Comments perceived as critical of China that Zhao made years ago resurfaced on social media after the Golden Globes, leading to publicity for the film being removed from popular Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douban.
Two quotes drove the mainland backlash against Zhao. The first was from a 2013 interview with Filmmaker Magazine, in which Zhao discussed her interest in making films about the American heartland and said, “It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere.” The magazine deleted the section in mid-February, days before the ‘Nomadland’ China release date was announced.
The second quote was a misprint from an interview Zhao did in December with an Australian website. The interview was published with the Zhao saying “the U.S. is now my country,” but the website updated the story on March 3 to say it misquoted the filmmaker. What Zhao actually said was “the U.S. is not my country.” Screenshots of the incorrect quote circulated social media and ignited backlash.
As reported by the Associated Press, Weibo users searching for the hashtag “Nomadland has a release date” or the film’s Chinese title “No land to rely on” in February were met with the following message: “According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page is not found.” While hashtag pages for “Nomadland Movie” and “Chloé Zhao” existed, Variety noted the China’s National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas post featuring the film’s poster had been deleted from the platform. The film’s Chinese poster and release date were also removed from Douban.