Chloe Zhao made history Sunday night at the 93rd Academy Awards as she became the first Asian woman and woman of color to take home the Oscar for best directing. The Nomadland helmer also became the second woman ever in the award ceremony’s history to win the directing award, following The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow in 2009.
Zhao, who is of Chinese descent, racked up her Oscars win after a long, yet historical, awards season journey which brought her top prizes at DGA Awards, the Golden Globes and most recently the Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Upon receiving the best director award from last year’s best director winner, Bong Joon-Ho, Zhao reflected on a childhood memory that inspires her to keep going even when it gets rough. After thanking her “entire Nomadland company,” she brought her fellow nominees back to her childhood in China, where she remembered playing a game with her father to memorize classic Chinese poems and texts.
“People at birth are inherently good,” Zhao said, reciting a phrase that stuck with her. “Those six letters had such a huge impact on me when I was a kid. I still truly believe them today. Even though it seems like that the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere in the world.”
She continued her acceptance speech by dedicating her award to “anyone who had the faith and courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold on in the goodness in each other no matter how difficult it is to do that.”
Nomadland follows Frances McDormand’s Fern as she embarks on an untraditional journey among fellow modern-day nomads just to survive after she loses her husband. David Strathairn co-stars along with real-life nomads Linda May (who accompanied Bruder for her book) and Swankie. Zhao’s film also won the evening’s best picture and best actress in a leading role awards.
Zhao bested fellow nominees, Emerald Fennell, Lee Isaac Chung, David Fincher and Thomas Vinterberg.
Backstage, Zhao revealed that she had a small dinner with Bigelow and that she “definitely fangirled big time.” She added that she’s grateful to have a parent who supported her throughout her career and shared some wisdom for rising filmmakers.
“I feel I’m very lucky to have a parent who always told me that who you are is enough and who you are is your art,” she said.
The 93rd annual Oscar Awards aired Sunday on ABC. Watch Zhao’s full acceptance speech above and her backstage clip below.