Chinese netizens congratulate Beijing-born Chloe Zhao for Academy Awards win despite Oscars’ heavy political tinge
Published: Apr 26, 2021 04:15 PM
Chloe Zhao Photo: AFP

Chloe Zhao Photo: AFP

Part of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the 93rd academy awards kicked off in the US on Sunday, with Chinese netizens commenting that the event seemed "tame" and not "suspenseful" enough as some results, like Chloe Zhao's success with Nomadland and the failure of documentary Do Not Split appeared to be locked in before the awards had even started.

Chinese experts said these awards prove that the Oscars are trying to regain the hearts of moviegoers around the world by playing the "politically correct" and "diversity" cards in reaction to previous hashtags #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale.

Making history

Chloe Zhao, a director born in China, has made many historic achievements with her darling film Nomadland at various international film festivals. The film once again become a big winner at the Oscars by taking home three major prizes - best director, best picture and best actress - while Zhao became the first Chinese woman and the first woman of color to win best director. 

"Chloe Zhao's best director win has many aspects, with the biggest highlighting the Oscars' 'political correctness.' She is the first non-white women to win the prize," Shi Wenxue, a film critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

He added that since Nomadland heavily features the director's personal style and focuses on social issues in the US, it may fail to capture the interest of Chinese moviegoers. 

The significance of Zhao's win lies in that her film has won a very authoritative international prize, but "people should not see it as a 'political symbol,'" Shi said.

"No matter how much controversy Zhao previously caused in China, the nominations as well as the awards she won at the Golden Globes, Oscars and other international film festivals show her talent is great and should be praised," Xiao Fuqiu, a film critic based in Shanghai, told the Global Times, echoing Shi.

The controversy concerned Zhao's past comments saying China is "a place where there are lies everywhere" in an interview with Film Maker magazine in 2013. The quote was later deleted from the interview.

"As the first woman of color to win the best director awards at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, she definitely should be recorded by history, and she has set a good example to encourage many Chinese filmmakers to continue their art dreams," Xiao added. 

Though many Chinese netizens commented that the film is very "American" and might be hard to understand, they still congratulated the director. 

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.

"The speech that Zhao gave shows the positive influence of Chinese culture and could help her win more support among Chinese moviegoers," said Xiao. 

Predictable failure 

Hong Kong film Better Days directed by Derek Tsang and Do not Split, an American-Norwegian short documentary film about the Hong Kong protests, both of which have grabbed people's attention since they were nominated, failed to win in their respective categories.

The nomination of 35-minute-long Do Not Split, recording several Hong Kong protests including the siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was widely criticized by Chinese netizens, who applauded its failure to win on Chinese social media platforms.

"A documentary that is subjective, partial, one-sided and has ulterior motives loses its most precious authenticity," Shi said, referring to the documentary.

When explaining why the documentary failed to win Documentary Short Subject, Shi said the artistic level of the work was low and that it featured one-sided political expression, so its failure was a balancing act by Oscar voters.

Netizens in China expressed disappointment that Better Days lost in the Best International Feature category; the film exposes the poignant truth about school violence.Once a hot topic on Sina Weibo due to netizens anticipation, the film is still seeing support from fans, many of whom say "getting nominated was already good enough." 

According to Shi, the film probably resonated less with the Academy than Another Around, the Danish film that won the award. 

"They have watched too many miserable stories about young people, so stories of adults escaping from reality may be more in tune with the social mood in Europe and the US in recent years."

"It does not matter that Better Days did not win. The storytelling in the movie and stunning performances of the lead characters allow us to see how China's film industry has moved forward. The nomination is one of the signs," one netizen commented on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

Lukewarm attention

Although the hashtag "Oscar" sparked the interest of Chinese netizens on Sina Weibo, the biggest winner was not the event itself, but, surprisingly, a Chinese idol named Oscar, who recently appeared on the hot idol competition show CHUANG2021. Since discussion of the Academy Awards was down overall this year in China, when fans of the event searched for "Oscar" on Sina Weibo, most of the results were about the idol rather than the awards.

Though netizens discussed the event on Sina Weibo, online discussion of the gala was lukewarm in China and only particularly attracted the attention of fans of the awards. Many Chinese netizens decided to form groups on WeChat and Douban to discuss the event. 

"The livestream was delayed, but we have people in the group who are in the US and can keep us updated once the winner is out," Tingyu, a member of an Oscars discussion group on Douban, told the Global Times on Monday.

"We really look forward to Chinese productions winning, but we still talk about other good foreign films, and predict and debate about which ones will be the final winner. As film lovers, we are not paying special attention to one particular film. Even when a Chinese film loses, we still know the movie is good, like Better Days," Tang, another Oscars discussion group member, told the Global Times.