When Chloe Zhao on April 25 climbed the steps of a makeshift stage at Union Station – the Los Angeles train station serving as temporary home for the Oscars – she became the first non-white woman to win the Best Director award, and only the second female recipient of the award.

Ms. Zhao recorded another first. In her acceptance speech, she quoted a well-known Chinese classical poem, recalling her childhood in China. “When I was growing up in China, my dad and I played this game where we memorized classical Chinese poems and texts, and recited them together and tried to finish each other’s sentences,” she said. “One that I remember so well, ‘Ren Zhi Chu, Xing Ben Shan’ means ‘people at birth are inherently good’. These six characters had such a big impact on me and I still truly believe them today.

The first two would normally have made headlines in China and were relayed by a country which, like India, is thirsty for its own successes, even those that have long left its shores. Yet Ms. Zhao’s Oscar success has been relatively understated. News of her award has been downplayed, sometimes even censored, highlighting her troubled relationship with her country of birth.

On Douban, a popular social media platform, videos of the award and speech have been removed, the Washington post reported, while Twitter equivalent Weibo was also censoring posts about it. “A blogger wrote in frustration,” the To post reported, “that the only Oscar-related content they could find was from a singer named Oscar Wang who was unexpectedly eliminated from a boy band contest.”

Ms. Zhao’s film, meanwhile, ran into problems with regulators. Originally scheduled for release in April, Nomadland has yet to hit theaters. And not only that, for the first time since 2003, the Chinese official TV channel CCTV did not even broadcast the Oscars. Ms. Zhao’s involvement was seen as one of the reasons, the other being the appointment of a documentary on the Hong Kong protests.

Born in Beijing, Ms. Zhao grew up in the Chinese capital until she was 14, then moved to England and then to the United States for school. After attending film school in NYU, her major breakthrough was her 2015 drama. Songs that my brothers taught me about a Native American brother and sister and life on a reserve.

Critical success

The critical success of Nomadland Last year, which was quickly regarded as one of the Oscar favorites, initially hit the Chinese media well, and Ms. Zhao was warmly acclaimed. It quickly deteriorated when the comments she made in a 2013 interview surfaced and spread like wildfire. Ms. Zhao had spoken of growing up in “a place where there are lies everywhere.” Widespread outrage soon followed, and a female director who was hailed by the Chinese film community – and who remains famous among her fellow filmmakers there – quickly faded from state media attention, pointing to the dwindling performance. tolerance in China for the slightest criticism.

This anger dissipated somewhat after his victory.

On one level, there is a certain irony in the controversy, as Chinese regulators have a lot to appreciate. Nomadland, which follows the story of Fern (played by Frances McDormand) and her journey across America in her trusted van as she finds both work and a sense of belonging after losing her job and her husband. Based on journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book, the film offers a searing look at America and those who have been left behind, themes that one might have assumed would be welcomed by Chinese authorities who are generally too. eager to shed light on the flaws of the United States

On another level, Ms. Zhao’s success is also a reminder of why she may have chosen to relocate elsewhere in the first place. Nomadland it is also a story of freedom and to pursue it at all costs. “The last free space in America,” we are told, “is a parking space”. In the film, Fern resents being asked if she is “homeless”. “I am homeless”, she retorts, “it is not the same thing”. A Chinese filmmaker offering a critical and blunt look at Chinese society in China today, let alone a foreign one, probably wouldn’t have gone very far.