China censors Chloe Zhao’s historic Oscar win

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Beijing-born Chloe Zhao on Monday became the first woman of colour to win the Oscar for best director, but the country of her birth censored the news of her victory as leading Chinese state-run media avoided reports on her historic win.

As of late on Monday, official news agency Xinhua, national broadcaster CCTV and the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) mouthpiece, People’s Daily, did not report on the big success of Zhao’s film — Nomadland — at the Academy Awards. Previous posts on Chinese social media websites had been blocked as well.

Zhao on Sunday night became the second woman ever to win the coveted award at the Oscars, as her film Nomadland — about marginalised Americans roaming the West — bagged best picture and its lead, Frances McDormand, won best actress.

According to a Reuters report, a live-stream of the Academy Awards in Shanghai hosted by alumni of Zhao’s alma mater ran into China’s censors, with the organiser saying access to his virtual private network (VPN) service was blocked for nearly two hours.

“One of the exceedingly rare pieces of coverage, on private news site 163.com, actually used the occasion of her victory as an opportunity to not-so-subtly assert one of China’s most important — and contentious — geopolitical priorities,” the Hollywood Report said in an article.

Beijing’s anger on Zhao stems from an interview she gave to the Filmmaker magazine in 2013 where she said China is “…a place where there are lies everywhere”.

Until the speech resurfaced recently, Zhao and her work had been praised even by Xinhua.

“The evocative feature film, Nomadland, the latest effort by insightful Chinese female director, Chloe Zhao, is sweeping the awards circuit in the United States, putting her on the fast track for Oscar contention… Zhao has a unique vision which is serving her in good stead now,” Xinhua wrote in a gushing piece in December.

Twitter-like Weibo was initially flooded with posts praising Zhao on Monday morning, while others decried censorship.

“Chloe Zhao becomes the first Asian diaspora/Chinese female filmmaker to win the best director Oscar in history,” wrote an entertainment blogger, before the tweet was deleted. “China’s public opinion control is outrageous. After Chloe Zhao’s starling Oscars win, there is not even a fart on Weibo,” wrote an outraged user

State-backed opinion on her quickly changed after the interview was found and shared on Chinese social media.

Later on Monday, the nationalistic tabloid Global Times published reports on Zhao’s victory, almost grudgingly praising her work.

Zhao’s acceptance speech showed her Chinese cultural roots when she quoted the classic Chinese philosophical ethos that people are born with goodness and kindness within them.

With inputs from agencies

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