Social media users in China got creative on Monday to celebrate Chloe Zhao’s historic Oscar victory after mention of her name was censored by the Chinese government.
Beijing-born Zhao, who directed “Nomadland,” won the Oscar for Best Director on Sunday, but searches for her name and the film were scarce on Chinese social media platforms. Nomadland also won Best Picture but received similar silent treatment.
On Twitter-like Chinese Weibo, users bypassed censors by using translations and alternate iterations of the film’s title. Nomadland, which roughly translates to “unreliable land” in Chinese, was changed to “reliable sky” instead – giving the film a whole new name.
Zhao also received several new names. Some users have given her the nickname “cloud girl” and others simply called her “that girl”. Zhao’s acceptance speech, in which she referred to a classic Chinese text about people who are inherently good at birth, also had an impact on Weibo users.
“Chloe Zhao is awesome, walking the red carpet in sneakers and reciting a line from the Three Character Classic. It is the wisdom of a literari. Some words can be erased, but it is not, ”wrote one user.
Zhao made history Sunday when she became the first woman of color to win the Academy Award for Best Director. She is also only the second woman to win the Best Director award, but she has yet to officially receive praise from her home country.
The Associated Press reported that in an app popular with Chinese moviegoers, Douban, searches for “Nomadland” and “Zhao Ting” resulted in “the search results could not be displayed in accordance with the laws and regulations in force ”.
Discussions about Zhao and her film were silenced in China after comments she had made appearing to criticize the country were uncovered following her Golden Globes victory on March 1. from China. Within days, however, she became the target of online trolls accusing her of smearing China over comments in a 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine in which she described her experience there as “a place where there are lies everywhere ”.
Another more recent interview was also conducted, in which Zhao, who spent time studying in the United States, reportedly told an Australian news site, news.com.au, on March 3 that “the United States America is now my country, at the end of the day. ”The site went on to say that they misquoted Zhao and that she actually said“ America is not my country ”.
“Nomadland” immediately received calls for a boycott. Its promotional material has disappeared online, and there is no sign of the film being released in Chinese theaters in the near future.
This year’s Oscars weren’t shown in China at all, and for the first time in 50 years, in Hong Kong as well.
“Don’t Separate,” a documentary on the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests was also nominated. However, neither Chinese authorities nor Hong Kong’s main broadcaster have said the ban was due to the inclusion of Nomadland or the documentary, the latter citing “commercial reasons.”
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Reuters reported that a live broadcast of the Oscars hosted by alumni of Zhao’s alma mater in Shanghai via a virtual private network (VPN) service was also blocked for nearly two hours. NBC News could not confirm this.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, a Chinese state-backed newspaper, congratulated Zhao on her victory on Twitter, but also added that he hoped Zhao “would become more and more mature” in dealing with the problems that the strained ties between China and the United States might bring him.
There has been no statement from Chinese state officials about Zhao’s victory or the response online.
Offline, however, AP reported that some celebrated Zhao’s victory.
“Wow, that’s amazing – winning a world award as a Chinese,” said Zhou Lu, 35, a publisher in Beijing. She hadn’t heard from Zhao before her victory, but plans to watch her movie.
Isabel Wang and Zixu Wang contributed.