Chloé Zhao (born Zhao Ting, March 31, 1982) is a Chinese filmmaker, known primarily for her work on American independent films. Her 2020 film Nomadland attracted international recognition and won many awards, including the Academy Award, Directors Guild of America Award, Golden Globe Award, and British Academy Film Award for directing. Earning four Academy Award nominations for the film, Zhao won both Best Picture and Best Director, becoming the second woman in history to win the latter after Kathryn Bigelow in 2010, and the first woman of color to win the category.
- It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere. You felt like you were never going to be able to get out. A lot of info I received when I was younger was not true, and I became very rebellious toward my family and my background. I went to England suddenly and relearned my history. Studying political science in a liberal arts college was a way for me to figure out what is real. Arm yourself with information, and then challenge that too.
- I love movies that don’t necessarily tell me how I should feel or how I should think but give me this canvas that I can go away and have a conversation with myself and people around me.
- I have gone through ups and downs in my relatively short career. And one thing I’ve learned is a bit of a cliché, but everything does happen for a reason.
- The one thing that I learned really early on is that you’ve got to surround yourself with the right people. Because you can’t change how people think — you can’t control how they’re going to think, how they’re going to behave. But what you can do is make sure the people that are around you not only protect you but want to be with you because of who you are as an individual. I’ve been lucky in my whole career so far. Every single film we’ve made, I’m surrounded by people like that.
- Someone I really respect and have been working with recently said to me, “You have to know that you have power. Know that you don’t have to fight so hard that you’re just on survival mode all the time. People around you are there to help you and they will be there when you fail. It’s okay to ask for help.”
- I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t think I can pinpoint why my upbringing or experiences have made me that way, but I have always been an outsider myself; it doesn’t matter where I went. I’m attracted to people who are on the periphery of society. I’ve been like this since high school. I liked mangas growing up and the ones I was drawn to were not about mainstream characters.
- Sometimes life drives you to a place… the road allows you to rediscover yourself.
- I don’t make films so that people can agree with me more. I make them to portray a character, a people or a way of life that people don’t know but that anyone can get to know. Then they can experience those things through their own conditioning and walk away with their own opinions and we can have a conversation about it. That’s the power of cinema. But if you stop me on the street to talk about politics, I’ll argue with you all day.
- But just by pointing the camera at something, you’re already making a statement of some kind. It’s inevitable, because you’re adding a perspective to it. I find that sometimes when I go into a community that’s not my own, or a community that has a lot of issues attached to it, I have to resist wanting to say something about how I think they could be better, or how I think the government has wronged them. A lot of times, they tell me what they think I want to hear because they’ve been interviewed many times by journalists. And usually, there’s something that these people who are interviewing them want them to say, because people go in with an agenda. I hear them saying things to me almost like they’re programmed to do it. You have to wait for that to be finished, and then you can ask, “What football team do you support?” or, “Tell me about your high school sweetheart.”
- Making films is about communicating, and I am terrified that I will end up making films for people who already agree with me, which just keeps enforcing our own ideas. I’d rather have one person who disagrees with my politics watch my film, and then somehow see themselves in it without putting up a shield, than a whole room of people who already agree with me give me a standing ovation.
- I’m not the kind of filmmaker who just makes films. I have to be in love with my subject matter and want to learn more about it. Someone once said to me that passion doesn’t sustain, but curiosity does. I have to be excited by little things I discover along the way.
- But the truth is, you can never really be happy, because happiness is not an ultimate thing. Happiness is when your expectations are met with reality. If your expectation is constantly fed by the capitalist economy for its own survival, that you always need more, then you can never be as satisfied as the medieval farmer was satisfied with his piece of bread.
2021 Academy Award acceptance speech
- I've been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard. I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid. When I was growing up in China, my Dad and I used to play this game. We would memorise classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite them together and try to finish each other's sentences.
- There's one that I remember so dearly, it's called the Three Character Classics. The first phrase goes... 'People at birth are inherently good.' Those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid, and I still truly believe them today.
- Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world. So this is for anyone who had the faith, and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult is to do that. And this is for you. You inspire me to keep going.
About Chloé Zhao
- You could watch her script adapt to the personalities and stories that came from those conversations. You could see her listening to these individuals telling their stories, and then collaborating with them to fold their own narratives into the script. Chloé really allows people to choose how they want to represent themselves. The safety of fiction filmmaking, in my opinion, actually pulls out a level of honesty and authenticity that I think would be impossible if this was a documentary purporting to truth.
- Hannah Peterson, filmmaker and actress, "‘Nomadland’: How Chloé Zhao Made a Secret Road Movie While Becoming a Marvel Director" (8 September 2020), Indie Wire
- Sometimes people feel like they are not important enough to be in a movie. Once they meet Chloé, they open up. She makes people feel special. Chloé truly wants to hear their story and she wants them to tell it.
- Mollye Asher, film producer, "‘Nomadland’: How Chloé Zhao Made a Secret Road Movie While Becoming a Marvel Director" (8 September 2020), Indie Wire
- This year, a female ethnic Chinese director got the awards, but even keywords related to her cannot be seen on social media. This is extremely lame.
- a Weibo user, on Zhao being censored in China after her historic winning of Academy Awards, "“Joy that can’t be celebrated:” the Chinese internet is lamenting the censorship of Chloé Zhao" (26 April 2021), Quartz
- People at birth, are inherently good. Their natures are similar, it’s the sensitive characters in their names that make them different. Congratulations to director Chloé Zhao!
- 文宣中国, a Weibo user, "Netizen Voices: “With Its Own Actions, China has Proved that What Chloé Zhao Said Was True”" (26 April 2021), China Digital Times
- Instead of celebrating Chloé Zhao's wins at the Oscar and making the Chinese public feeling proud, Beijing is busy censoring her -- all for a criticism she made in 2013. For as long as I've been writing about Chinese censorship and propaganda, I still can't wrap my mind around it.
- Li Yuan, The New York Times Asia tech columnist, Twitter (26 April 2021)