On Monday morning, the day after making history with her two Oscar wins, Chloé Zhao is beaming. Her happiness is detectable even over Zoom. “It was just so, so beautiful to be in the room with people, and to be able to actually talk to them and to celebrate with my peers,” she says.
Not everything went as planned at the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday night; witness the show not ending with the usual best picture category, instead unexpectedly honoring an actor, Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t even there, as its climax. But at least one thing went very right: Zhao landed the trophy for best director for “Nomadland,” and also received the top prize for picture. She’s only the second woman to win an Oscar for director — after Kathryn Bigelow (for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”) — and Zhao, who was born in Beijing, is the first woman of color to receive the prize. “Nomadland,” released by Searchlight Pictures, led all films with three Oscars, including actress for Frances McDormand.
Zhao went into the night with four nominations: In addition to producing and directing, she was up for adapted screenplay and editing. And after doing countless virtual panels, particularly with her fellow directors, she was at last together in person with the other nominees on Sunday night. Describing meeting nominee Emerald Fennell — both Zhao and the “Promising Young Woman” director wore sneakers — Zhao says she was able to “finally give a hug.”
“I think there’s a picture somewhere out there of the two of us with our sneakers together,” she says with a laugh.