The Nomadland director made history with her win by becoming only the second woman ever to win the award, and gave a moving speech dedicated to the "goodness" in people

By Alexia Fernández
April 25, 2021 09:31 PM
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Chloé Zhao took home the coveted Oscar for Best Director — and made history in the process!

While it's a major night for the Nomadland director for many reasons, Zhao is also breaking new ground for the Asian community in the U.S. by becoming the first Asian woman — and the second woman ever — to win an Oscar for Best Director. The first woman to win the prize was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, and the first Asian director to win was Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain in 2006.

"I've been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard, and I think it goes back to something I learned as a kid," said Zhao, 39, in her speech. "When I was growing up in China, my dad and I used to play this game. We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together and try to finish each other's sentences."

"There's one that I remember so dearly; it's called 'The Three Character Classics,' " she continues, before stating the first phrase, then translating it to: "People at birth are inherently good."

"Those six letters had such impact on me as a kid," recalled Zhao. "And I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true. But I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere I went in the world. So this is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do this."

"This is for you," she concluded. "You inspire me to keep going."

chloe zhao and frances mcdormand in nomadland
Chloé Zhao and Frances McDormand in Nomadland
| Credit: 20th Century Fox

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This is Zhao's first Academy Award nomination and first win. Last year's winner, Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), presented the category. Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), David Fincher (Mank) and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) were also nominated in the category.

The director, who previously made several independent films such as The Rider, has received critical acclaim for her work in Nomadland, which follows the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), who becomes a drifter after losing her home in the 2008 recession.

While Zhao's Nomadland was a lot closer to home, the director's next project is a lot bigger in scale. Zhao is currently hard at work filming the upcoming Marvel film The Eternals starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani. She will also be helming the sci-fi Western take on Dracula for Universal Pictures. 

The 93rd Academy Awards are airing live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.