Chloé Zhao is now the second woman ever to win a Golden Globe for directing

Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao during production of "Nomadland."
(Joshua Richards / Searchlight Pictures)

In a historic year for female filmmakers at the Golden Globes, the 2021 director prize went to Chloé Zhao for her Frances McDormand-starrer “Nomadland.”

The film, about a widow who loses her job and decides to live out of her van, also won the award for best picture, drama.

Zhao, the first woman of Asian descent and only the second woman ever to win the directing prize at the Globes, accepted the award with a nod to the individuals who shared their personal stories with the filmmakers. She read a note from one man, Bob Wells, who is featured in the film.


“‘Compassion is the breakdown of all the barriers between us. A heart to heart bonding. Your pain is my pain. It’s mingled and shared between us,’” said Zhao. “Now, this is why I fell in love with making movies and telling stories. Because it gives us a chance to laugh and cry together, and it gives us a chance to learn from each other, and to have more compassion for each other.”

For the first time in the organization’s 78-year existence, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. nominated three women in the category: Zhao for her Frances McDormand starrer “Nomadland,” Regina King for the period ensemble drama “One Night in Miami” and Emerald Fennell for the vengeance flick “Promising Young Woman.”

Those are the feature directing debuts for both King and Fennell, who are also actresses. Four-time Emmy winner King won a Globe and an Oscar for her performance in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” while Fennell played Camilla Parker Bowles for the past two seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown.”

Rounding out the 2021 director category were David Fincher, collecting his fourth career Globe nomination for old Hollywood biopic “Mank” and Aaron Sorkin for the historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Fincher and Sorkin both won Globes in 2011 for directing and writing, respectively, “The Social Network.” Sorkin collected an additional screenplay prize for 2015’s “Steve Jobs.”

Prior to this year, no female directing nominee had competed against another woman in the category.

Presenting the award, Bryce Dallas Howard noted this year’s unprecedented number of female nominees. “May there be many, many more,” she added before announcing Zhao the winner.


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Feb. 21, 2021

Zhao’s nomination marked another first: The Chinese-born filmmaker is the first woman of Asian descent to compete in the category. “Nomadland” is her third feature following the indie dramas “The Rider” and “Songs My Brothers Taught Me.” She has also directed Marvel’s “The Eternals,” which is scheduled to open this fall following COVID-19 delays.

Three years ago Globes presenter Natalie Portman wryly congratulated the “all-male nominees” in the running for that year’s director award during the televised awards show, calling attention to the stark gender imbalance that marks the Globes’ legacy and that of the entertainment industry at large.

The HFPA, the 87-member organization which votes for the Golden Globe Awards, has faced widespread criticism this year in the wake of a Times investigation into ethical lapses. Among the investigation’s findings was the fact the group has no Black members. The fallout included an organized Time’s Up social media protest urging the HFPA: “A cosmetic fix isn’t enough.”

Only one woman to date had ever actually won the Golden Globe for director: Barbra Streisand, who took home directing and best picture-comedy or musical honors in 1984 for directing herself in the drama “Yentl.”

The next woman to be nominated for director at the Globes? Streisand again, nominated in 1991 for directing “Prince of Tides.” Two years later, Jane Campion was nominated for both directing and screenplay honors for “The Piano.”

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It would be another 10 years before another female filmmaker earned a spot in the director category, when Sofia Coppola was nominated for 2003’s “Lost in Translation.”

Kathryn Bigelow became the next woman to vie for the director award at the Globes, twice. Nominated first in 2009 for “The Hurt Locker,” she earned her second directing nod in 2012 for “Zero Dark Thirty.”

In 2014, Ava DuVernay was nominated for her historical drama “Selma,” becoming the first Black female director to be nominated for the Golden Globe. King is the second. Only five Black directors have been nominated in the category to date, including Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) and Spike Lee (“Do The Right Thing,” “BlacKkKlansman”).

Bigelow remains the only woman to win the directing Oscar and the Directors Guild of America prize for feature films, both for “The Hurt Locker.” Academy Award nominations will be announced March 15.

The organization said the perception that many members are not serious journalists is “outdated and unfair” and that it is committed to addressing the lack of Black members.

Feb. 21, 2021