Chloé Zhao on winning, howling and more

(Chloé Zhao)

Oscar night saw people of color, and especially women, brought to the forefront. A record 9 of the 22 acting nominees were people of color and Chloé Zhao became the second woman – and first woman of color – to win the award for Best Directing for her opus about grief and the damaged American dream, Nomadland.

After winning the gold, Zhao fielded questions about winning and fellow producer and Oscar-winning lead Frances McDormand howling during her acceptance speech.

“Well, the howling is for our production sound mixer, Wolf, who you saw in the memorial,” Zhao explained.  “We, unfortunately, lost him recently, and his name is Wolf, and he’s the production sound mixer both on my previous film, The Rider, and he is part of the Rider family, so that howl was for Wolf.” 

Zhao added, “My happiest time is now for the people who know what she did out there as a producer and an actress, how open and how vulnerable she has been and how she has been in this movie to help out the nomads, and she really is Nomadland, so I’m just really, really happy that she got that award.”

Admitting she is a fangirl of the first female Oscar directing winner, Zhao then discussed the historic nature of her win. “I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living, and if this win helps more people like me get to live their dreams, I’m so grateful for this.  I have had a group dinner with Kathryn Bigelow, and definitely fangirled big time.  And, yeah, I would love to talk to her if you have her e‑mail.” 

She then touched on the history of her win. “I feel I’m very lucky I have parents who have always told me that who you are is enough, you know, and who I ‑‑ who you are is your art, you know?  So I always try to stay true to myself and be surrounded by really great, supportive, talented people, so I really share this moment with them.”

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Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1