Chloé Zhao made further history with her win by becoming only the second woman ever to take home the Best Director Oscar for Nomadland on Sunday night

By Jen Juneau and Topher Gauk-Roger
April 26, 2021 01:14 PM
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Chloé Zhao is tapping into her upbringing for perspective after taking home two awards at the 2021 Oscars Sunday night.

The Nomadland director, 39, took home the coveted golden-statue trophies for Best Picture and Best Director during the ceremony, becoming the first Asian woman to nab the latter.

In the press room following the Oscars, Zhao, who's Chinese, was asked by reporters how she was feeling about her history-making win.

"I'm very lucky I have parents who have always told me that who you are is enough and who you are is your art," she responded. "I always try to stay true to myself and be surrounded by really great, supportive, talented people. So I really share this moment with them."

Listen below to the episode of our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on the 2021 Oscars. 

Zhao added to PEOPLE that she was "extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living," and said she hoped her win "helps more people like me get to live their dreams."

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Chloe Zhao Academy Awards
Chloé Zhao
| Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty

In her acceptance speech for Best Director, Zhao said in part, "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 continued, 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."

Frances McDormand and Director/Writer Chloé Zhao on the set of NOMADLAND
Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao on the set of Nomadland
| Credit: Joshua James Richards

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This was Zhao's first Oscar nomination and 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 for Best Director.

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

Zhao is the second woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director. The first was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, while the first Asian director to win was Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain in 2006.

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 aired live on Sunday, April 25, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.