• Fri. May 12th, 2023

Zhao is the first Asian woman to win Best Director for her film Nomadland, but in China the reaction has been tightly controlled, with praise removed from social media and supporters blocked from watching a livestream of the event.

Apr 26, 2021

The reaction to Chinese director Chloe Zhao’s historic night at the Academy Awards has been surprisingly muted back home amid controversy over comments she made nearly a decade ago.
Key points:

  • Nomadland was scheduled to be released in mainland China on April 23 but its screenings have been suspended
  • Mainland Chinese television and newspapers ignored the awards ceremony, while some who tried to livestream the event had their feed cut
  • The reaction stems from remarks Zhou made in a 2013 interview

Zhao became the first Asian woman to win a Best Director nod for her film Nomadland, which also won Best Picture. The film’s lead Frances McDormand picked up Best Actress.
However, the awards were not broadcast in China, or even Hong Kong, reportedly because of a ban ordered by the Chinese Communist Party’s Publicity Department.
Free-to-air Hong Kong television station TVB, which has broadcast the Oscars every year since 1969, said it wouldn’t carry the ceremony this year for “commercial reasons”.
In March, Chinese netizens said Zhao had insulted China and questioned her nationality after digging up an interview she gave in 2013 in which she appeared to be critical of the country.
According to Chinese tabloid The Global Times, the controversy stemmed from the interview in Filmmaker Magazine in which she said, “it goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere”.
Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role in Zhou’s Nomadland. (AP: Searchlight Pictures
Information on Nomadland, about the travelling van community in modern America, was scrubbed from Chinese ticketing platforms, film review websites and social media and the movie’s release, slated for April 23 in mainland China, was suspended.
Another sensitive nomination for China was Norwegian director Anders Hammer’s short documentary Do Not Split, about Hong Kong’s 2019 protests.
Chinese social media unsually quiet on Zhou win
Nomadland was written, directed, and edited by Chloe Zhao.(AP: Chris Pizzello
The reaction to Zhao’s win contrasts starkly to reaction in South Korea after director Bong Joon-ho last year took home the Best Picture for Parasite.
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#Parasite and #DirectorBongJoonho started trending on South Korean Twitter, and “Parasite” became a leading search term.
Bong even got a congratulatory message on Twitter from South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in.
The Oscars are historically a big deal in China, which has submitted films for the award since 1979.
Zhang Yimou directed the first Chinese film nominated for the foreign language award in 1990. He became one of China’s most famous public figures and the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony director in 2008.
This year mainland Chinese television and newspapers ignored the awards ceremony but Hong Kong media did cover the results.
Chinese social media was unusually quiet on the topic.
The Oscars are usually a big deal in China, but not this year.(Supplied: Disney
The US Consulate in Hong Kong congratulated Zhao, who is known in China as Zhao Ting, on Chinese social media network Weibo but the post was deleted soon after.
The Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin also congratulated Zhao on Weibo, but his post was deleted too.
“Winning the award is not a bad thing after all,” he said in the post.
“Zhao Ting made some improper remarks a few years ago. I saw many people criticised them online. I support those critics.
“I hope people can understand that my support for the critics is not contradictory to my congratulations to Zhao Ting.”
Some Chinese netizens tried to use Pinyin, the Romanisation of the Chinese characters based on their pronunciation, to avoid possible censorship.
“Zhao Ting has made history, and it is not based upon lies. It shows that Chinese women can have new expressions in many fields,” said one.
Others were less complimentary.
“I was a bit surprised that Zhao did not use Mandarin to say thank you,” another netizen said on Weibo.
“Bong Joon-ho spoke in his native language, and strives for the right to speak Korean in the international arena.”
Livefeed cut, praise shut down
Many Western apps such as YouTube are banned in China, where the local internet is tightly regulated and often censored of content that could undermine the country’s ruling Communist Party.
A virtual private network (VPN) service is needed to bypass the so-called “Great Firewall”.
About 30 of Zhou’s supporter gathered to watch the Oscars but they were censored.(Supplied: Disney
A livestream of the Academy Awards in Shanghai hosted by Zhao’s alma mater was delayed when the organiser’s VPN was blocked for nearly two hours.
About 30 people had gathered at a small bar on The Bund, a historic district in central Shanghai, to support Zhao as early as 8:00am local time and watch the awards live on YouTube.
But the screening, hosted by the Alumni Society of New York University, didn’t start until 10:00am, when organiser Kevin Ke got his VPN service to work.
“They cut the VPN,” Mr Ke said earlier in heated tones as he struggled to get the screening under way.
Mr Ke told Reuters that his WeChat account was shut down after he wrote a post praising Zhao.