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'Nomadland' Director Faces Criticism in China

Chloe Zhao accepts the Best Director - Motion Picture award for "Nomadland" in this handout screen grab from the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., February 28, 2021. (NBC Handout via REUTERS)
'Nomadland' Director Faces Criticism in China
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Chloe Zhao is the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for best director and also the second woman to ever win the award. But she is not finding universal praise in her birth country, China.

The filmmaker of Nomadland finds that criticisms in China about her citizenship and identity are taking some of the attention away from the news of her success.

The Chinese government has removed some social media posts about the film, which is now a leading Oscar candidate. These actions have raised questions about whether Nomadland will still be released in the country.

Over the past week, Chinese web users questioned whether Zhao, who was educated in Britain and the United States, was still a Chinese citizen. They also asked if she could be counted as Chinese given comments she has made in the past. Even as some celebrated her win, others found two interviews in which Zhao said things they considered an “insult to China.”

Now publicity about the film has been removed from social media in China. A post on the Weibo service from the government-backed National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas no longer shows an advertisement for the film.

At the heart of the issue are two statements, or quotes, from past interviews done by Zhao.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Chloe Zhao poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Chloe Zhao poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Online users sent out images or screenshots from a 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine. In the interview, Zhao said, “It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere.” The interview no longer shows the statement, but older versions of the website showed it.

The second statement came from an interview Zhao did with an Australian website,, in December last year. The news site reported she said, “the U.S. is now my country.” But the news site changed the story on March 3 to say they had not correctly reported Zhao’s words. It published a note on the article saying it “has been updated to reflect she said (the U.S. is) ‘not’ her country.” However, the older version of the story spread widely on internet sites in China.

It is unclear whether the film will still be released in China. Chinese media reported it was expected to be released on April 23. The China Film Administration did not immediately answer Associated Press phone calls asking for a statement.

Online debate has been split on the issue. Some people said Zhao had betrayed her country. They called her “two-faced” and said she left the country based on her father’s wealth as the former head of a state-owned business.

Others called for the debate to stay centered on her movie.

A popular film critic, Chu Mufeng, praised Zhao and her film on his Weibo social media site where he has 3 million followers. Chu noted that “not only was she the first ethnically Chinese female director to win best director, she was also the first Asian woman.”

However, one of the top comments under his post said: “An American female film director, thanks, don’t praise her too much.”

Chu answered the comment, saying, “If an ethnically Chinese chef was great at cooking, would you ask him where he was from? Treat a good movie as if it’s a feast, all you need to do is enjoy.”

I’m John Russell.

Huizhong Wu reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


Words in This Story

interview n. a meeting between a reporter and another person in order to get information for a news story

update – v. to change (something) by including the most recent information

reflect – v. to show (something) : to make (something) known

chef – n. a professional cook who usually is in charge of a kitchen in a restaurant

feast – n. a special meal with large amounts of food and drink