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‘Nomadland’ wins big at pandemic Oscars as Zhao makes history


‘If this win means more people get to live their dreams, I’m extremely grateful

Chloe Zhao Director

HOLLYWOOD: US road movie “Nomadland” emerged as the big winner at the Oscars on Sunday with three major prizes, including a history-making award for director Chloe Zhao, as Hollywood celebrated its most glamorous night with a unique pandemic-era gala.

Zhao’s drama about marginalised Americans roaming the West in vans was honoured for best picture, director and actress for Frances McDormand, who now is in elite company with her third Academy Award for performing.

No-show Anthony Hopkins pulled an upset to win best actor in the final award of the night, besting sentimental favourite Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last year.

The unorthodox Oscars ceremony was moved from a Hollywood theatre to a glammed-up downtown train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, and reunited Tinseltown A-listers for the first time in more than a year.

Zhao, who is the first woman of colour ever honoured as best director, thanked “all the people we met on the road... for teaching us the power of resilience and hope, and for reminding us what true kindness looks like.”

She is also only the second woman to win best director after Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the glass ceiling in 2010 when she won the prize for “The Hurt Locker.”

“It’s pretty fabulous to be a woman in 2021,” Zhao told journalists as a virtual backstage Q&A, adding: “If this win means more people get to live their dreams, I’m extremely grateful.”

With movie theatres closed all year, and blockbuster content delayed, Beijing-born Zhao’s film captured the pandemic zeitgeist with its stunning portrait of the isolated margins of society.

“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible. And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theatre, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that is represented here tonight,” said McDormand.

Zhao, who has drawn controversy in China after years-old interviews resurfaced in which she appeared to criticise her country of birth, also quoted classical Chinese poetry in her acceptance speech.

But she was scrubbed from Chinese social media on Monday as a nationalist backlash airbrushed out her achievement, with recent posts containing her name and “Nomadland” mysteriously wiped from the Twitter-like site Weibo.

Her win was also met with silence by Chinese media.

Hopkins’ win at 83 for his shattering portrayal of a dementia sufferer in “The Father” makes him the oldest actor to win a competitive Oscar in history.

But he did not travel to Los Angeles or a London venue to accept the prize, and his victory, with no speech, made for a strange ending to the night. The film, adapted by French playwright Florian Zeller from his own stage production, also won best adapted screenplay. Zeller accepted his award from Paris.

Best supporting actress went to Youn Yuh-jung for the Korean immigrant drama “Minari.”


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