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China mutes reaction to Chloe Zhao’s history-making Oscars sweep

The Chinese-born film maker took the best picture and best director gongs at the Academy Awards.


Chloe Zhao (AP)

Chloe Zhao (AP)

Chloe Zhao (AP)

Director Chloe Zhao’s history-making Oscars sweep is being met with a muted response in her country of birth – and even censorship.

Zhao’s Nomadland is the second film directed by a woman to win a best picture Oscar, and she is the first woman of colour and second woman ever to win the Oscar for best director.

However, in China, where Zhao was born, her history-making success has not been trumpeted or celebrated.

State media in China remained silent as of Monday afternoon, with no mention of her win by either CCTV and Xinhua, the two main state-run outlets.

Instead, there was even censorship. A post announcing Zhao’s directing win by film magazine Watch Movies, which has more than 14 million followers on the Weibo microblog, was censored a few hours after it appeared on Monday morning.

A hashtag, “Chloe Zhao wins Best Director”, was also censored on the platform with users coming across an error message saying, “according to relevant laws and regulations and policies, the page is not found”.

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Some users resorting to using “zt” to post about Zhao, using the initials of her full name in Chinese, Zhou Ting.

Typing in Zhou’s name in Chinese on Weibo brought up only unrelated posts from the beginning of April. A search for “Oscars” showed only official posts from the South Korean and US embassies.

Douban, an app popular with film buffs, banned searches for “Nomadland” and “Zhao Ting”, saying that “the search results could not be displayed in accordance to relevant laws and regulations”.

Multiple discussion threads about Zhao’s win were deleted on the app as well. A news article on WeChat, the largest messaging app in the country, was also deleted.

However, the news of her wins spread onto the Chinese internet, with individual web users and bloggers cheering Zhao.


Nomadland’s star, Frances McDormand, also took home the best actress award (AP)

Nomadland’s star, Frances McDormand, also took home the best actress award (AP)

AP/PA Images

Nomadland’s star, Frances McDormand, also took home the best actress award (AP)

Many took note of her acceptance speech, in which Zhao quoted a line from a poem written in the 13th century that she, like many other Chinese children, had memorised as a child, which translates as: “People are good at birth.”

In stark contrast, South Korea’s Youn Yuh-jung, who won over audiences playing the grandmother in Minari, could still be searched on the Chinese internet.

Youn took the best supporting actress award, becoming the first Korean performer to win an Oscar.

Zhao faced a nationalist backlash in March when she won a Golden Globe for best director, with internet users in China questioning whether she could be called Chinese, and some saying she had insulted her home country with comments on its political system.

China’s press, television and social media are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, either directly or through self-censorship, and online criticism can frequently result in calls for boycotts of entertainers or name brands.

Before the backlash in March, the film was slated for an April 23 release in China according to local media, but it did not open last week and there was no official word on a release.

Employees at two cinemas in Beijing said they did not know of any upcoming showings of the film.

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