China-born Zhao is only the second woman ever to win the Academy Award for best director.
Chinese-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, who told the story of financially stretched van dwellers in United States’s recession-era tale Nomadland, has become the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to win best director at the Academy Awards on Sunday.
It was the first Oscar for Zhao, 39, who featured real-life nomads alongside actress Frances McDormand to tell the tale older Americans who travel from job to job to try and scrape together a living.
Zhao was born in China and lived in Beijing until age 14, when she went to boarding school in London. She later moved to Los Angeles where she finished high school and then attended film school in New York.
Despite early excitement in China over Zhao’s nomination, a backlash began after internet users dredged up some old social media posts in which they claimed the film director slighted China. The ceremony is not being broadcast in China this year, nor in Hong Kong – a short documentary on the territory’s 2019 protests is also in the running for an award.
Just two women have won best director in the Academy Awards 93-year history. Kathryn Bigelow took the prize in 2010 for war thriller The Hurt Locker.
Zhao competed this year against Emerald Fennel, the British director of Promising Young Woman, marking the first time two women were nominated in the category at the same time.
She went into the Oscars ceremony as the frontrunner after picking up trophies from the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and multiple film critics groups.
British actor Daniel Kaluuya, who first came to international attention in the 2017 Black comedy horror Get Out, won best supporting actor for his role as the late Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in the drama, Judas and the Black Messiah.
Kaluuya, 32, emerged as frontrunner for the Academy Award after also winning at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and British BAFTA ceremonies.
Born in London to Ugandan parents, Kaluuya describes himself as a working-class kid who got his first big break in the entertainment industry as a teen actor and writer on the British TV series, Skins.
Black revolutionary leader Hampton, was shot dead by Chicago police in 1969 at the age of 21.
Kaluuya paid tribute to him as he held his Oscar on stage.
“What a man,” Kaluuya said. “How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime that he existed. Thank you for your life.”