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Chloé Zhao Is The First Woman Of Color To Win Oscar For Best Director

Director Chloé Zhao at the 2021 Oscars. She was the first woman to receive four Oscar nominations in a single year.
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Director Chloé Zhao at the 2021 Oscars. She was the first woman to receive four Oscar nominations in a single year.

Chloé Zhao has won the Oscar for directing Nomadland, becoming the first woman of color to win the award and the second woman to win (Katheryn Bigelow, was the first). Zhao was also the first woman to get four Oscar nominations in a single year, in the Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture categories.

Nomadland offers a glimpse into the lives of older Americans who live and travel in their vehicles, mainly for economic reasons, embracing it as a nomadic lifestyle. The film's cast includes real-life nomads.

Zhao and Frances McDormand, who produced and stars in Nomadland, traversed the country for months, meeting the nomads and incorporating their experiences into the film. "I'm looking for some kind of truth," Zhao told NPR. "I'm looking for some kind of authentic moments."

Zhao grew up in Beijing and attended a boarding school in London before moving to Los Angeles to finish high school. She got her bachelor's degree in political science, then studied film at NYU, where one of her teachers was director Spike Lee. At NYU, Zhao began creating her cinematic style of blending fiction and documentary.

For her first feature film in 2015, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, she also used non-actors. She shot it at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. "There was such an American message and identity in these images," Zhao told NPR "The clash between the old and the new, seeing a Lakota boy on bareback on a horse at a gas station, and he's wearing a Tupac T-shirt, is very special. So that's how I first went there." Songs My Brother Taught Me premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Her second feature, The Rider, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017. It told the story of a young rodeo rider who suffers a traumatic brain injury and received the festival's Art Cinema Award. Next up for Zhao: the November release of her directorial debut in the Marvel cinematic universe, The Eternals.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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