Chloé Zhao’s year of magic is only half over. In April, she won the Oscars for Best Film and Best Director with Nomadland. In early November, we will know whether the Chinese-American director can also excel in the universe of superhero company Marvel.
As of 25 April, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) is finally no longer the only woman with an Oscar for Best Director on her mantelpiece. Chloé Zhao, who was born in Beijing but moved to America, can now also boast an Academy Award. The 39-year-old received the award for directing Nomadland, a road movie that earlier won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival. The movie depicts the life of modern nomads: people who no longer have a home and travel across the United States in all kinds of trailers. They enjoy their freedom but are also dependent on solidarity and numerous underpaid jobs, for example in the warehouses of Amazon.
The idea for a film adaptation of the book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder came from lead actress Frances McDormand. The actress who earned Oscars for her leading roles in Fargo and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri begged Zhao to direct because, like many film fans, she was impressed with The Rider.
In this impressionistic indie gem, Zhao films a young Lakota cowboy who wants to live among the horses after a bad rodeo accident. Like his ancestors. Zhao and her life partner and camera-operator Joshua James Richards combine pure film poetry with great authenticity and work wonderfully well with non-professional actors. Like their intimate debut film Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which was compared to Terrence Malick’s Badlands, they shot The Rider on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
With this profile, Zhao seems to be miles away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But she still accepted the superhero company’s proposal to direct Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan and Richard Madden in Eternals. Eternals are an immortal alien race who have lived here in secret for thousands of years to protect the Earth from Deviants. Does Zhao control Marvel or does Marvel control Zhao? On 3 November, we will know the answer.