Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” a wistful portrait of itinerant lives on open roads across the American West, won best picture on April 25 at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Zhao, born in China, became the first woman of color to win best director and a historically diverse group of winners took home awards.
The “Nomadland” victory, while widely expected, nevertheless capped the extraordinary rise of Zhao, a lyrical filmmaker whose winning film is just her third, and which—with a budget less than $5 million and featuring a cast populated by non-professional actors—ranks as one of the most modest-sized movies to win Hollywood’s top honor.
(Zhao’s next film, Marvel’s “Eternals,” has a budget approximately 40 times that of “Nomadland.”)
A plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit, “Nomadland” struck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage.
“I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world,” said Zhao when accepting best director, which Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) was the only previous woman to win. “This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves and to hold on the goodness in others no matter how difficult it is to do that.”
The film also won the Best Picture award. With a howl, “Nomadland” star Frances McDormand implored people to seek out the film and others on the big screen. Released by the Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures, “Nomadland” premiered at a drive-in and debuted in theaters, but found its largest audience on Hulu.
“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible,” McDormand said. “And one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.”
Best supporting actress went to Youn Yuh-jung for the matriarch of Lee Isaac Chung’s tender Korean American family drama “Minari.” The 73-year-old Youn, a well-known actress in her native South Korea, is the first Asian actress to win an Oscar since 1957 and the second in history. She accepted the award from Brad Pitt, an executive producer on “Minari.” “Mr. Brad Pitt, finally,” said Youn. “Nice to meet you.”
The pandemic-delayed Oscars bring to a close the longest awards season ever—one that turned the season’s industrial complex of cocktail parties and screenings virtual. Eligibility was extended into February of this year, and for the first time, a theatrical run wasn’t a requirement of nominees.
The most ambitious award show held during the pandemic, the Oscars rolled out a red carpet and tried to restore some glamor to a grim year. For the first time ever, this year’s nominees were overwhelmingly seen in the home during a pandemic year that forced theaters to close and prompted radical change in Hollywood.
More women and more actors of color were nominated than ever before, and this year’s awards brought a litany of records and firsts across many categories, spanning everything from hairstyling to composing to acting. It was, some observers said, a sea change for an awards show harshly criticized as “OscarsSoWhite” in recent years, leading the film academy to greatly expand membership.