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Chloé Zhao made history with her Golden Globe. Now she faces backlash in China

Director Chloé Zhao
Director Chloé Zhao at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
(Taylor Jewell / Invision/AP)

Chloé Zhao’s success as the first Asian woman and the second woman ever to win a Golden Globe for best director, for her film “Nomadland,” has not been met with universal applause in her country of birth.

The Beijing-born filmmaker, now a leading Oscar contender, instead finds the news of her success overshadowed by a nationalist backlash regarding her citizenship and her identity. Censors have removed some social media posts about the film, raising questions about whether it will still be released in China.

Over the past week, Chinese web users questioned whether Zhao, who was educated in Britain and the U.S., was still a Chinese citizen and if she could be counted as Chinese given a critical comment she made about the country in 2013. Even as some celebrated her win, others dug up two interviews in which Zhao said things that they considered an “insult to China.”

Now, publicity about the film has been removed from social media, and at least two hashtags related to it have been disabled.

Searching for the hashtags “Nomadland has a release date” and “No land to rely on” (the film’s Chinese title) on popular microblog platform Weibo results in a message: “According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page is not found.”

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A post on Weibo by the government-backed National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas that had featured a poster for “Nomadland” no longer displays the poster.

On Douban, a popular app where many urban Chinese users discuss books, films and TV shows, the official Chinese poster for the movie as well as a release date in China were deleted Friday, Variety reported. The app’s landing page for the movie, with comments and its English-language poster, remain visible.

At the heart of the controversy are two quotes from previous interviews with Zhao. Online users circulated screenshots from a 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine in which she 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 quote, but archived versions of the webpage showed the original.

The second quote came from an interview Zhao did with an Australian website, news.com.au, in December last year in which she said that “the U.S. is now my country.” Although the news site updated the story Wednesday to say that it had misquoted Zhao, and that the article “has been updated to reflect she said [the U.S. is] ‘not’ her country,” the uncorrected version of the story was the one circulating widely on the Chinese internet.

It is unclear if the film will still be released in China. It was slated to be released April 23, according to Chinese media. The China Film Administration did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Here are the six highlights from Sunday’s 78th Golden Globes, including Jane Fonda’s inspiring speech and Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous win.

The online debate has been split. Nationalist commentators say Zhao betrayed her country, calling her “two-faced” and saying she left the country based on her father’s wealth as a former CEO of a state-owned enterprise. Other observers called for the debate to remain focused on her movie, which follows the story of a woman, played by two-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand, who lives in a van after the company that was the economic engine of her town in Nevada shut its doors.

A popular Chinese film critic, Chu Mufeng, praised Zhao and her film on his Weibo account, where he has 3 million followers, noting 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 underneath his post said: “An American female film director, thanks, don’t praise her too much.”

Chu responded to 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.”


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