‘I’ve always been an outsider’: Chloé Zhao’s roundabout route to the Oscars red carpetApril 24, 2021
Ahead of Sunday’s Oscars, we explore the hotly-tipped Nomadland director’s journey from Beijing to Hollywood
Ten minutes into Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland an itinerant Amazon packer hoists up her shirt-sleeve to show off her tattoos. Her favourite, she says, is a lyric from Morrissey’s song Home Is a Question Mark: “Home – is it just a word or is it something you carry within you?” This question echoes through the story that follows, as Nomadland trails its band of ageing, displaced RV and van-dwellers across the midwest from one seasonal gig to the next. Quite likely it resonates with the film’s director as well.
“My life has been so transient and fast-moving,” Zhao told the Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuarón, summing up a path that has led her ever-westward, first from Beijing to a UK boarding school, then from New York via New England to her current base near LA. This weekend, barring a shock upset, the 39-year-old film-maker will make history as the first woman of colour to win the best director Oscar (and only the second woman ever, after Kathryn Bigelow in 2010). Hailed for her soulful, clear-eyed studies of marginalised communities in the US, she’s the vibrant outsider ushered into the fold, living an immigrant dream that is causing political headaches back home.