Infuriating snubs aside, there are some feel-good stories among this year’s Oscars nominees, and Chloe Zhao’s historic year is one of them. Zhao and Emerald Fennell mark the first time two women have been nominated at the same time for Best Director, and Zhao is the first woman of color and first Asian woman to be nominated in that category. She is also the first woman to receive FOUR Oscar nominations in one year, for producing, writing, directing, and editing Nomadland. She joins the ranks of Alfonso Cuaron, the Coen Brothers, Alan Menken, Warren Beatty, Walt Disney, and Orson Welles as fellow four-time nominees. (Francis Ford-Coppola is a five-time nominee.) Bong Joon-ho accepted four Oscars last year, three of which were his but Best International Feature goes to the country, not the individual, so he accepted on behalf of South Korea. If Zhao wins Best Director, as expected, she will be only the second woman to do so in Academy history, following Kathryn Bigelow, and the first woman of color and Asian woman to win that category.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses, as Nomadland is facing some challenges for its pending release in China. Past comments of Zhao’s that appear critical of her native country have landed her in some hot water. There is currently a social media blackout on her name and Nomadland and its April 23 release is now in question. She hasn’t been completely censored, but Zhao and Nomadland are the latest to be caught in the deteriorating relationship between the US and China, as well as running afoul of nationalistic Chinese censors. It’s a complicated situation which could affect more than just Nomadland, as The Eternals hangs in the balance, too. It’s especially interesting since Zhao and her success in Hollywood has been a point of pride for China until literally the day after she won Golden Globes. So far, Zhao hasn’t issued any statements about the situation, but the Chinese market, now the largest box office in the world and thus even more critical than usual to a film’s success, is too important to ignore. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out, and whether or not Zhao being a four-time Oscar nominee moves the needle in her favor at all.