Chloé Zhao is a female, Chinese filmmaker who is currently blazing the trail for women in the industry. She released her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, in 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival– home of the critically acclaimed. Zhao’s debut was no different as she earned nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards and went on to get the same for her second movie, The Rider (2017). Zhao was catching viewers’ attention and was noted as a prominent, up-and-coming, independent filmmaker.
In this past year, Zhao has been making history with her third film, Nomadland, in which she directed, edited, wrote, and produced. The feature is based on Jessica Bruder’s book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Frances McDormand stars as Fern, a widowed van-dweller who works a copious amount of miscellaneous jobs to get by. She lost her home after her town went bankrupt in 2008 due to the US Gypsum plant closing and the recession. Soon after she lost her husband, leaving her to enter her old age with nothing. Fern then befriends several people of the same situation and they all become modern-day nomads. In true Keroacian fashion, they travel all throughout America, doing all they can to see all they can see and whatever they can to get by.
Zhao paints a unique portrait of this American lifestyle as the only two professional actors in this movie are Frances McDormand (Fern) and David Strathairn (Dave). The rag-tag bunch of good-hearted folks Fern befriends are all real nomads, creating their own community wherever they go. Zhao was able to pull utterly raw and beautiful performances out of these everyday Americans, which escalates her status as a sensational director even more. The film is abundant in shots showing the vast and brilliant landscape throughout America’s West. Zhao harks to our souls through the breathtaking cinematography and simple script that displays pain, resilience, and hope.
Zhao was raised in Beijing, China, and did not come to the U.S. until the 2000’s in order to study film at NYU. She grew up a self-proclaimed “rebellious child”, living in a poor community with a burning love for story-telling. When she came to the United States, she realized she had a romanticized view of the country and wanted to capture the real America.
Nomadland has been sweeping the awards shows since it won the esteemed Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It won both Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globes, making Zhao only the second woman to win Best Director and the first Asian woman to do so. Now, Nomadland has been deemed an unstoppable force as it is the favorite to win at the Oscars too. If she were to win the Academy Award for Best Director, she would only be the second female to do it and she would be the first Asian woman to win. This is a huge deal as the film industry has a notorious history of being male-dominated. According to USA Today, “The percentage of women directors only rose from 9% in 1998 to 13% in 2019.” Hopefully, Zhao’s achievements and her magnificent work will inspire minorities across the board to increase those percentages. Representation has been proven to be a vital part of the entertainment industry as it allows for all stories to be told with better accuracy and inclusivity.
Zhao’s next project is with Marvel, one of the most well-known companies in the world. She will be directing their next blockbuster, Eternals, which is set to come out this year. She has proven herself to be a prominent pioneer in the industry as she sets an example for all filmmakers. Her movie Nomadland is available for streaming on Hulu and be sure to look out for her upcoming work because she is not even close to finished yet!