Chloé Zhao won the Best Director trophy at the Oscars on Sunday night for Nomadland, her expansive but bracingly intimate film exploring the lives of 21st century itinerant workers across the American West.
The filmmaker, who emerged as a clear frontrunner early on this awards season with wins at the Golden Globes and Baftas last month, now stands as the first woman of Asian descent and the second woman ever to win the Best Director award in the 93-year history of the Academy Awards.
After an introduction from last year’s winner, Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, Chloé took to the stage Sunday to accept the award.
She first thanked her Nomadland colleagues, remarking on the “crazy, once-in-a-lifetime journey” they’ve been on since the film premiered in the US in September.
Chloé went on to talk about finding the goodness in ourselves and others, drawing from classic Chinese poems and texts from her childhood.
“People at birth are inherently good,” she said after reciting the phrase in Chinese. “Those six letters had such an impact on me when I was a kid and I still truly believe them today.
“Even though it might sometimes seem like the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world.”
“This is for anyone who had the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves,” she added.
Five women have been nominated in the Best Director category before: Lina Wertmüller (1976’s Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (1993’s The Piano), Sofia Coppola (2003’s Lost In Translation), Kathryn Bigelow (2009’s The Hurt Locker), and Greta Gerwig (2017’s Lady Bird).
Until Chloé’s win, Kathryn was the only female filmmaker to take home an Oscar for Best Director.
Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), David Fincher (Mank) and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) rounded out the list.
Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as Fern, a middle-aged widow who decides to journey across the vast expanse of the American West and live out of her van after the economic collapse of her hometown.
Along the way, she picks up odd jobs, including a somewhat controversial stint at an Amazon warehouse, as she finds a community with her fellow nomads and grows accustomed to the open road.
Check out the full list of this year’s Oscar winners here.