Chloé Zhao, Chinese Director Tipped for Oscars Glory, Falls Foul of Country's Censors

Anticipation for this weekend's Academy Awards appears unusually muted in China as references to Chloé Zhao's Oscar-nominated Nomadland remain censored on the country's largest social media platform.

"Wuyizhidi," the Chinese title of the film, generated a hashtag that was viewed nearly 90 million times after the movie won "Best Motion Picture - Drama" and Zhao bagged "Best Director - Motion Picture" at the 78th Golden Globe Awards in February.

Beijing-born Zhao, who is known as Zhao Ting in China, became the first Asian woman to win the award, and her success was celebrated in the country as a win for all Chinese.

But when an interview from eight years ago resurfaced a week later and contained seemingly critical comments about the country, the 39-year-old suddenly became public enemy number one.

On Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, Nomadland's hashtag disappeared. Searches on the website, which has more than 500 million active monthly users, returned no results. References without the hash sign were scattered and had little engagement.

Zhao, who now resides in the United States, moved to London for high school and attended college in Massachusetts.

In the 2013 interview —now only available as a web archive—with New York magazine Filmmaker, she described China as "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," she said. "I went to England suddenly and relearned my history."

Her remarks were deemed an insult to China, and discussions about her talent soon turned to her citizenship and the lack of pride and loyalty she had toward her country of birth. Media outlets that continued to report on her Golden Globe successes were flooded with critical comments, some describing Zhao as "two-faced."

By the first week of March, widespread discussions about Nomadland were no more as internet censors silenced the phrase. Meanwhile, a hashtag bearing her Chinese name and another about her Golden Globe win remain, with 32 million and 350 million views respectively.

Chloe Zhao Tipped For Oscar History
Chloe Zhao, winner of Best Director - Motion Picture, speaks during the 78th Annual Golden Globe Virtual General Press Room on February 28, 2021. Handout/HFPA via Getty Images

The few Weibo users who have mentioned the film this week have asked—to no reply—whether Nomadland will ever find its way into Chinese theaters. The government-backed cinema group National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas (NAAC), which distributes movies across China, had planned a wide release of the film on April 23, but viewings appear to have been pulled.

NAAC did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

When the 93rd Academy Awards air on Sunday, Zhao could make yet more history by becoming the first Asian woman and first Chinese filmmaker to win Best Director.

Nomadland is up for a total of six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress. On Weibo, however, Disney's Mulan received more fanfare when for its costume and visual effects nominations were announced last month.