Chloé Zhao

The first woman of color to win an Academy Award for best director

Born in Beijing and raised there and in England, two-time Oscar winner Chloé Zhao is one of the film industry’s most acclaimed directors. Her film “Nomadland” swept the 93rd annual Academy Awards in 2021, winning best picture and best director, as well as a best actress award. 

She is the first woman of color to receive an Academy Award for best director and only the second woman to win that category in nearly a century. “Nomadland” also won Golden Globe Awards  and British Academy Film Awards for best picture and best director. The film premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the Golden Lion, among other accolades. In all, Zhao earned 34 trophies for directing “Nomadland,” making her the most awarded person in a single season.

Her first feature film, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” was set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It premiered to acclaim at the 2015 Sundance Festival and was nominated for a Caméra d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival later that year. Zhao’s next film, “The Rider” — which, like “Nomadland,” features a cadre of nonprofessional actors — took the top prize at the Directors’ Fortnight festival, held in conjunction with the Cannes Film Festival, in 2017.

Her film “Eternals,” part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, will be released in November 2021.

Class year: 2005
Birth year: 1982
Major: political science major, film studies minor; Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, 2021

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