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Chloé Zhao: This Chinese filmaker is a Rock Star writer/director with style and impact

Chloé Zhao, born Zhao Ting, is a Chinese filmmaker, known primarily for her work on independent films. Zhao's debut feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, premiered at Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and earned a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.

Before Chloe Zhao became one of the leading female film directors with her movie “The Eternals,” she directed films like “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and “The Rider” and “Nomadland.”

Since 2015, she’s helmed movies that premiered at festivals and won notable awards, so her directing style and future projects are something to note. Her career also proves that films led by women of color can break box office records since “The Eternals” earned $161.7 million in global box offices during its opening weekend.

A key characteristic of Zhao's visual style is that she shoots with wide-angle lenses, which means there is depth of field and not a lot of shallow focus. “She likes to use grounded cameras that move naturally, and production didn't use any extra lights on location; they just shot with natural light,”

Chloe Zhao became not only the second woman in the 93-year history of the Oscars get the Oscar for Best Director, but she is also the first black and Asian woman.

When she was 15 years old, despite knowing nearly no English, her parents sent her to a boarding school in the United Kingdom. Zhao said in 2018 that while growing up in China, she felt constricted “an ancient culture where I was expected to be a certain way” and was drawn to Western culture.


In the film, the Eternals, immortal alien beings, emerge from hiding after thousands of years to protect Earth from their ancient counterparts, the Deviants.Based on Jack Kirby's epic 19-issue series The Eternals (1976), the film explores a group of immortal aliens' relationship to the people of Earth, and each other, across millennia.In fact, in the comics, three Eternals (and another character introduced in the movie) to whom we've already been introduced have become Avengers.“'Eternals' was planned to be released soon after 'Endgame,' and not at a time when everyone is having an existential crisis,” Zhao said.

“The film itself is about existential crisis, both for humanity and God.So I think we definitely felt [the divisiveness] was coming.”


In all, we'd say that the most impactful film Zhao has made is NOMADLAND. Nomadland is a 2020 American drama film written, produced, edited and directed by Zhao. Based on the 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, it stars Frances McDormand as a widow who leaves to travel around the United States in her van as a nomad. David Strathairn also stars in a supporting role.


Nomadland is a milestone film that is a masterpiece of story telling. Earning four Academy Award nominations for the film, Zhao won both Best Picture and Best Director, becoming the second woman in history to win the latter. Her work with the talented Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo) earned raves reviews.

Zhao comforts McDormand ont he set of "Nomadland"

Nomadland is also the first Searchlight release to win Best Picture since The Walt Disney Company acquired the assets of 21st Century Fox. It also won Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director at the 78th Golden Globe Awards,four awards including Best Film at the 74th British Academy Film Awards, and four awards including Best Film at the 36th Independent Spirit Awards.

During her acceptance speech at the Acadeny Awards, she thanked her "Nomadland" cast and crew (see image at left with McDormand and their Oscars). She spokeof and memorizing Chinese poems growing up in Beijing. "I've always found goodness in the people I've met in the world," Zhao said. "This is for you. You inspire me to keep going."

Prior to shooting Nomadland in late 2018, Zhao and her producing team spent time getting to know the van-dwellers as she wrote the script. "That's what Chloé is the best at: gaining people's trust and listening to their stories," McDormand told USA TODAY. "She says that part of what she enjoys about her filmmaking is getting to know people. And they really do want to tell her their stories."

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