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Chloé Zhao’s historic Oscar win appears largely censored in China

Chinese director Chloé Zhao at the Oscars on Sunday. (Chris Pizzello/AFP/Getty Images)
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News of Chloé Zhao’s Oscars win on Sunday appeared to be censored within China, where the director has fallen victim to a wave of nationalism and attacks accusing her of betraying the country where she was born.

At the 2021 Academy Awards, Zhao became the first woman of color and the second woman ever to win for directing for her work on “Nomadland,” portraying workers in the American West. Zhao, 39, who was born in Beijing but moved to Britain and the United States to study, is also the first Chinese woman to have won the award.

Yet in China, where accolades for ethnically Chinese public figures are often celebrated, comment and articles about Zhao were swiftly deleted on Monday while searches for her name or the Oscars turned up few results.

“Why is Weibo blocking Chloé Zhao? What happened? All related Weibo posts have been censored,” one user wrote on the platform. Others noted that Zhao’s Oscars win did not appear among the most searched topics, a list that is often manipulated by the platform. One blogger wrote in frustration that the only Oscar-related content they could find was that of a singer named Oscar Wang who had been unexpectedly eliminated from a boy band contest run by Tencent.

China’s Oscars boycott mixes politics with push to curb Hollywood dominance

Here are the highlights from the 2021 Academy Awards on April 25, which included historic wins for director Chloé Zhao and actress Yuh-Jung Youn. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

On the discussion forum Douban, video clips of Zhao holding her trophy and posts about her acceptance speech were removed. While users could post about her win on WeChat, articles were deleted, including one by a popular film reviewer who posted an article with the movie’s title, “Nomadland,” a dozen times over.

Coverage within Chinese media was scant, with neither of two major state-owned outlets reporting her win. State-run tabloid Global Times posted on Twitter, which is blocked within China, describing Zhao as the first Asian woman to take home the directing award. Hu Xijin, the Global Times’ editor in chief, congratulated Zhao, adding that the “tense China-US ties may bring some troubles to her.” “Hopefully she will become more and more mature in handling those troubles,” he wrote, also on Twitter.

The censorship of Zhao, who spoke affectionately of her Chinese upbringing in her acceptance speech, highlights the intensity of nationalist sentiment in China, fanned by officials and state media as Beijing finds itself increasingly at odds with the United States and its allies.

For the first time since 2003, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV did not air the Academy Awards, with outlets receiving instructions to “play down discussions” of Sunday’s ceremony. Some have attributed the boycott to the nomination of the documentary “Do Not Split” by Anders Hammer, which follows the 2019 Hong Kong protests, as well as controversy surrounding Zhao.

Fearful of political criticism, China won’t show the Oscars live

In March, as her film won international plaudits, Zhao was hailed by Chinese state media as the “pride of China” and her film was scheduled to be released within the country at the end of April. After Internet users found a 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine where Zhao described China as a country where there were “lies everywhere,” praise-filled articles were removed. “Nomadland” did not appear in Chinese theaters on April 23 as scheduled.

Still, Chinese fans of Zhao have spoken up in her defense.

“Zhao expressed her love for China on the international stage at the Oscars. Before, she disliked the ugly part of the nation. It is impossible for a country to only accept the good and deny the bad,” one user wrote on Weibo.

Others found representation in her win. During her acceptance speech, Zhao referred to her childhood, growing up in China and reciting Chinese poems with her father. Switching to Mandarin, she quoted a line from a classic text: “People at birth are inherently good.”

“Listening to her read those characters in her Beijing accent. It’s hard to describe this feeling. In that moment, I felt like I wanted to cry,” one user on Weibo wrote in a comment that was later removed.

Lyric Li, Alicia Chen and Pei Lin Wu contributed to this report from Taipei.

China’s Oscars boycott mixes politics with push to curb Hollywood dominance

Fearful of political criticism, China won’t show the Oscars live

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