On Sunday, Chloé Zhao, the director of “Nomadland,” made history by becoming the first woman of color and the first Chinese woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. However, in her home country, the official media, big search engines, and internet censors were all acting as if nothing happened.
The Uncelebrated Victory
Since back in time, it is only the second time that a woman had walked away with the best director award. Her entusiasts unleashed a flurry of congratulatory messages on Chinese social media platforms. Nevertheless, by midafternoon, almost all of the messages had been deleted.
Searches for her name on Baidu and Sogou, the two most famous search engines in China, yielded a smattering of links to news of her previous honors, but only a few links to deleted articles about the Academy Award honor.
Throughout the day, state broadcaster China Central Television, the official Xinhua News Agency, and Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily remained deafeningly silent on the prize. Despite her role as a Chinese national, two-state media reporters told The Wall Street Journal that they had received instructions from China’s propaganda ministry not to report on Ms. Zhao’s victory, despite her status as a Chinese national.
During a daily news conference on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the removal of social-media messages, claiming that it was not a diplomatic matter.
In addition to Ms. Zhao’s honor, “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand as a new widow who meets a gang of migrant gig workers wandering the American West, was the major winner at the 93rd Academy Awards, taking home Best Picture and Best Actress. Ms. Zhao, who was born in Beijing, was also named Best Director at the Golden Globes.
The official silence surrounding Ms. Zhao’s achievement is notable because China has long coveted the soft-power recognition that comes with awards like the Oscars.
The hesitation comes amid a rise in digital nationalism fueled by China’s ruling Communist Party, which has resulted in outbursts of online rage directed at Swedish apparel retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB, the National Basketball Association, and others for allegedly insulting China’s national honor.
Following her win at the Golden Globes in March, Ms. Chloé Zhao was subjected to a Chinese social media attack of her own. Initially ecstatic about Ms. Zhao’s international success, Chinese social media users became enraged after users shared a 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine in which Ms. Zhao mentioned China, calling it a place she grew up in “where there were lies everywhere.”
In contrast, South Korean media lighted up after one of the country’s biggest stars, Youn Yuh-jung, took home the Academy Award for best supporting actress award for her role in “Minari,” a film about a young Korean immigrant family in Arkansas. It was the first time a South Korean actor had won an award in an acting category.