Chloé Zhao

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Chloé Zhao
Zhao in 2015
Zhao Ting

(1982-03-31) March 31, 1982 (age 39)
Years active2008–present
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese赵婷
Traditional Chinese趙婷

Chloé Zhao (Chinese: 赵婷; pinyin: Zhào Tíng, born March 31, 1982)[2] is a Chinese-American filmmaker who is known primarily for her work in independent U.S. films. Her debut feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), premiered at Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and earned a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Her second feature film, The Rider (2017), was critically praised and received nominations for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film and Best Director. Zhao gained further success with Nomadland (2020), which attracted international recognition and won many awards, including Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards and British Academy Film Awards—making Zhao the second woman[3] and first Asian woman to win the category at each awards body[4]— the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. She is currently nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing at the 93rd Academy Awards.

Zhao has recently ventured into blockbuster filmmaking with the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Eternals,[1] slated for release in November 2021.

Early life[edit]

Zhao was born Zhao Ting in Beijing in 1982. Her father is Zhao Yuji, who rode the wave of China’s industrialization to great success, first as a top executive at one of the country’s largest steel companies, Shougang Group, and later in real-estate development and equity investment.[5] Her mother was a hospital worker who was in a People's Liberation Army performance troupe. Vogue said she described herself as "a rebellious teen, lazy at school" who drew manga and wrote fan fiction. She loved films growing up, especially Happy Together by Wong Kar-wai. When she was 15 years old, despite knowing nearly no English, her parents sent her to Brighton College, a private boarding school in the United Kingdom.[6][7]

Her parents separated and her father later remarried, to comic actress Song Dandan, whom Zhao had grown up watching on television.[8] Growing up, Zhao was drawn to influences from Western pop culture.[9] After attending the boarding school in England, she moved to Los Angeles to finish high school.[10]

Zhao studied at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, earning a bachelor's degree in political science.[11] She studied film production at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.[12]


In 2015, Zhao directed her first feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me. Filmed on location at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the film depicts the relationship between a Lakota Sioux brother and his younger sister. The film premiered as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance Film Festival.[13] It later played at Cannes Film Festival as part of the Director's Fortnight selection.[14] The film was nominated for Best First Feature at the 31st Independent Spirit Awards.[15]

In 2017, she directed The Rider, a contemporary western drama which follows a young cowboy’s journey to discover himself after a near-fatal accident ends his professional riding career.[16] The film was executive produced by her father Yuji Zhao.[17] Similar to her first feature, Zhao utilised a cast of non-actors who lived on the ranch where the film was shot.[18] Zhao's impetus for making the film came when Brady Jandreau—a cowboy whom she met and befriended on the reservation where she shot her first film—suffered a severe head injury when he was thrown off his horse during a rodeo competition.[19] Jandreau later starred in the film playing a fictionalised version of himself as Brady Blackburn.[19]

Zhao at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con

The film premiered at Cannes Film Festival as part of the Directors' Fortnight selection and won the Art Cinema Award.[20] The film earned her nominations for Best Feature and Best Director at the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards. At the same ceremony, Zhao became the inaugural winner of the Bonnie Award, named after Bonnie Tiburzi, which recognizes a mid-career female director.[21][22] The film was released on April 13, 2018 by Sony Pictures Classics and was critically acclaimed.[23] Peter Keough of The Boston Globe wrote: "[The film] achieves what cinema is capable of at its best: It reproduces a world with such acuteness, fidelity, and empathy that it transcends the mundane and touches on the universal."[24]

In 2018, Zhao directed her third feature film, Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand.[25] The film was shot over four months traveling the American West in an RV with many actual nomadic workers.[26] The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it received critical acclaim and won the Golden Lion award,[27] and subsequently played at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People's Choice Award.[28] The film was released on February 19, 2021 by Searchlight Pictures.[29] Zhao won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director for Nomadland, making her the first woman of Asian descent honored,[30] and only the second woman to win a Golden Globe for directing since Barbra Streisand in 1984.[3]

On February 15, 2021, Variety reported that "[w]ith 34 awards season trophies for directing, 13 for screenplay and nine for editing, Chloe Zhao has surpassed Alexander Payne (Sideways) as the most awarded person in a single awards season in the modern era."[31][needs update]

Upcoming projects

In April 2018, it was announced that Amazon Studios greenlit Zhao's upcoming untitled Bass Reeves biopic, a historical Western about the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal. Zhao is set to direct the film and write the screenplay.[32] In September 2018, Marvel Studios hired her to direct Eternals, based on the comic book characters of the same name.[33] The film is set to be released on November 5, 2021.


Zhao cites Wong Kar-wai's romance Happy Together (1997) as the "film that made me want to make films". She was also influenced by Spike Lee who was her film professor while she studied at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[34][35] She cited Ang Lee as an influence as well saying, "Ang Lee’s career has been very inspiring to me — how he’s able to bring where he comes from to all the films that he makes". She also has mentioned Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick as key influences.[36][37]

Zhao stated her earliest introduction to American cinema was The Terminator (1984), Ghost (1990) and Sister Act (1992).[38]

Relationship with China[edit]

In 2013, Zhao was preparing to film Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and told the magazine Filmmaker that the premise of a closed environment with a high teen suicide rate reminded her of her Chinese upbringing:[39]

It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in 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. I went to England suddenly and relearned my history. Studying political science in a liberal arts college was a way for me to figure out what is real. Arm yourself with information, and then challenge that too.

Zhao's US film The Rider had a one-off screening at the 2017 Pingyao International Film Festival but did not have a theatrical release in China.[40] Zhao said in 2018 that while growing up in China, she felt constricted by "an ancient culture where I was expected to be a certain way" and was drawn to Western culture.[7] In 2020, while promoting her US film Nomadland, she told that she had felt like an outsider in the United States, in not having "the weight of history" on her. The newspaper initially reported her statement, "The US is now my country, ultimately, but maybe, it is easier for me than how I see my friends are reacting [to everything], especially this year."[41] The comment was removed by February 16.[40] The newspaper later restored a corrected quote of Zhao, saying she had said "not", instead of "now".[42]

Before the 78th Golden Globe Awards on February 28, 2021, Nomadland was scheduled to have a limited theatrical release in China on April 23, 2021.[43] When Zhao won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director for Nomadland at the ceremony, becoming the first woman of Asian descent to do so, Variety reported, "Although most Chinese viewers have yet to see the film, many cheered the Golden Globe win. Scores of posts praised Zhao's heartfelt acceptance speech about compassion and described her as an inspiration." It also wrote that many commentators "lamented that Zhao likely could never make such a powerful film about China, given the mainland's current censorship environment." Initially, state-owned media in China, including China Central Television, People's Daily, and Global Times, "sought to claim Zhao's glory for China." Shortly afterward, social media users learned of Zhao's comments to Filmmaker and, both which had been removed in mid-February 2021. Variety reported that the original interviews were "translated and widely disseminated on the Chinese web, sparking controversy among nationalists." Users questioned Zhao's citizenship and debated "whether it is appropriate to claim Zhao's victory as China's," with Variety calling the claim "a common move by state-backed outlets to drum up nationalism."[40]

On March 5, 2021, the Chinese government censored mention of Nomadland online. References to Nomadland's release in China were also removed. The New York Times reported, "It was not a complete blackout. Numerous stories about the movie were still online as of Saturday. And so far, there have been no reports that the film's China release was in jeopardy." The newspaper added, "But the online censorship was the latest reminder of the power of rising nationalist sentiment in China and the increasingly complex political minefield that companies must navigate there." It wrote that while Nomadland was not expected to have a significant box office gross in China due to its planned limited release and slow pace, "the patriotic frenzy" could potentially impact the release of Eternals, directed by Zhao, in China, for which a release date had not yet been announced.[42]


Films directed by Zhao
Year Title Director Writer Producer Editor Notes Ref.
2015 Songs My Brothers Taught Me Yes Yes Yes Yes Kino Lorber
2017 The Rider Yes Yes Yes No Sony Pictures Classics
2020 Nomadland Yes Yes Yes Yes Searchlight Pictures
2021 Eternals Yes No No No Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures [44]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Zhao resides in Ojai, California with three chickens and two dogs,[45] and her partner and cinematographer, Joshua James Richards.[46]


  1. ^ a b Stevens, Matt (March 1, 2021). "Chloé Zhao becomes the first Asian woman and second woman overall to win the Golden Globe for best director". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  2. ^ Sam Fragoso (April 15, 2018). "Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso" (Podcast). Talk Easy. Retrieved May 11, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Sharf, Zack (March 1, 2021). "Chloé Zhao Makes Golden Globes History as Second Woman to Win Best Director Prize". IndieWire. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  4. ^ "Golden Globes: 'Tears' as Chloe Zhao becomes first Asian woman to win best director". BBC News. March 1, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  5. ^ Willmore, Alison. "Chloé Zhao's America". Vulture. Vulture. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  6. ^ "Bafta Film Awards 2021: Nomadland and Promising Young Woman win big". BBC News. April 12, 2021. Retrieved April 14, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b Powers, John (March 22, 2018). "How Chloé Zhao Reinvented the Western". Vogue. Retrieved March 6, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Willmore, Aloson. "Chloé Zhao's America". Vulture. Vulture Media. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  9. ^ Mullen, Matt (April 13, 2018). "THE RIDER IS AN EARLY CONTENDER FOR BEST FILM OF 2018". Interview. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  10. ^ Gardiner, Margaret (May 23, 2017). "Chloé Zhao: A Woman Telling a Cowboys' Tale". Golden Globes. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Chloé Zhao". Filmmaker. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  12. ^ Cohen, Sandy (March 2018). "Filmmaker Chloé Zhao is the Accidental Realist". American Way Magazine. Archived from the original on April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  13. ^ "Songs My Brothers Taught Me". Sundance. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  14. ^ Kang, Inkoo. "More Sundance Deals: 'Hot Girls Wanted,' '10,000 Saints,' 'Songs My Brother Taught Me'". Archived from the original on November 18, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  15. ^ "31st FiLM iNDEPENDENT SPiRiT AWARDS NOMiNATiONS ANNOUNCED". Film Independent. Archived from the original on June 14, 2018. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  16. ^ Allen, Joseph (May 18, 2017). "Cannes 2017 Women Directors: Meet Chloé Zhao — "The Rider"". Women and Hollywood. Retrieved October 7, 2017.
  17. ^ "Sundance Institute". Sundance Institute. Sundance. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  18. ^ Ponsoldt, James (March 8, 2018). "Rodeo Dream: Chloé Zhao on The Rider". Filmmaker. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  19. ^ a b Hodson, Hayley (June 9, 2018). "Chloe Zhao's 'The Rider' is riveting". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  20. ^ "Tisch Alumni Win Cannes Honors". Tisch School of the Arts. June 2, 2017. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  21. ^ "Spirit Awards Grants". Film Independent. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  22. ^ "The Bonnie Award". Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  23. ^ "The Rider Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  24. ^ Keough, Peter (April 25, 2018). "'The Rider': What cinema is capable of at its best". The Boston Globe. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  25. ^ Aurthur, Kate (March 1, 2021). "Chloe Zhao Becomes Second Woman to Win Golden Globe for Directing as 'Nomadland' Makes History". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  26. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (September 2, 2020). "Director Chloe Zhao Arrives With Early Oscar Contender 'Nomadland' and Next Year's 'Eternals': "It's a Bit Surreal"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
  27. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (September 12, 2020). "'Nomadland' Scoops Golden Lion At Venice Film Festival – Full List Of Winners". Deadline. Retrieved September 12, 2020.
  28. ^ Vlessing, Etan (September 20, 2020). "Toronto: Chloe Zhao's 'Nomadland' Wins Audience Award". The Hollywood Reporter.
  29. ^ Barnes, Jess (January 14, 2021). "Disney Will Release 'Nomadland' on Hulu on Same Day as Theaters". CordCuttersNews. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  30. ^ Brown, Tracy (February 3, 2021). "Chloé Zhao is the first woman of Asian descent to land a Golden Globes directing nod". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  31. ^ Davis, Clayton (February 15, 2021). "Awards Circuit Winners Chart: Chloe Zhao Is Now the Most Awarded Filmmaker in a Single Awards Season". Variety. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  32. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (April 20, 2018). "Amazon Studios Lands Biopic on Bass Reeves, First Black U.S. Deputy Marshal, From 'The Rider' Helmer Chloé Zhao". Deadline. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  33. ^ Kit, Borys (September 21, 2018). "Marvel Studios' 'The Eternals' Finds Its Director With Chloé Zhao". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 21, 2018. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  34. ^ "Meet 'Nomadland' director Chloé Zhao, who just made Oscar history (and was Spike Lee's student)". USA Today. Retrieved March 19, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  35. ^ "'Nomadland' director Chloé Zhao discusses learning from Spike Lee". MSN. Retrieved March 19, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  36. ^ "Chloe Zhao's 'The Rider' Is a Welcome Antidote to the Age of Donald Trump". March 19, 2021.
  37. ^ "Under the Influence: Chloé Zhao on THE NEW WORLD". Youtube. Retrieved March 19, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  38. ^ "Meet 'Nomadland' director Chloé Zhao, who just made Oscar history (and was Spike Lee's student)". USA Today. Retrieved March 19, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  39. ^ Staff (August 14, 2013). "25 New Faces of Independent Film: Chloé Zhao". Filmmaker. Archived from the original on August 14, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  40. ^ a b c Davis, Rebecca (March 1, 2021). "China Both Celebrates and Slams Chloe Zhao's 'Nomadland' Golden Globe Glory". Variety. Retrieved March 6, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  41. ^ Mai, Wenlei (December 25, 2020). "How outsider Chloe Zhao captured the American heartland in Nomadland". Archived from the original on January 1, 2021. Retrieved March 6, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  42. ^ a b Qin, Amy; Chang Chien, Amy (March 6, 2021). "In China, a Backlash Against the Chinese-Born Director of 'Nomadland'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  43. ^ Davis, Rebecca (February 22, 2021). "'Nomadland' Granted Limited Pre-Oscars China Release Date". Variety.
  44. ^ "Chloe Zhao Marvel Eternal's writer". collider. Retrieved March 19, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  45. ^ Jame, Coyle (September 13, 2020). "With quiet humanity, Chloe Zhao's 'Nomadland' makes noise". Associated Press. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  46. ^ Allison, Whitmore (February 15, 2021). "Chloé Zhao's America The creator of quiet indie dramas is now the most-sought-after director in Hollywood". Retrieved February 16, 2021.

External links[edit]