Here at Speakeasy News, we have been following the career of Chloé Zhao since her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, was featured at the Deauville and Cannes festivals back in 2015. So we were delighted to hear that she was the first Asian woman, and only second woman, to win Best Director at the Golden Globes.
The Globes were announced on 28 February and Zhao's latest film, Nomadland, also won Best Drama. In her three films to date, the 38-year-old, Chinese-born director, has seeped herself in American culture, specifically Native American for the first two. She spent several years visiting a Lakota Sioux resevation, and both The Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) and The Rider (2017) were set there. In a twist to the traditional Western, they both featured Native-American cowboys competing in rodeo competitions.
With Nomadland, she takes on another cinematic trope: the road movie. Fern finds herself unemployed when the rural town in Nebraska where she lives loses its main employer. She decides to take to the road in an RV (recreational vehicle). Fern is played by Frances McDormand (Three Billboards and a stalwart of Coen brothers and Wes Anderson films). Fern wanders the country as a modern-day nomad, and true to Zhao's creative technique, is coached in the film by real-life nomads.
The combination of Zhao and McDormand sounded a sure-fire winner even before the film started attracting awards. We've been hoping to see it for months, and watched as the release date kept getting put back as cinemas remained closed. It's now scheduled for a 21 April release in France, so fingers crossed.
The only other woman ever to win Best Director at the Globes was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984. And only five women directors had ever been nominated for the Globes, until this year, when Zhao was joined by Regina King for One Night in Miami, and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.
There is a rich seam of black history in this year's nominated films. One Night in Miami tells of the night Cassius Clay became World Heavyweight boxing champion. The future Muhammad Ali couldn't celebrate with white boxers and fans, so the film imagines him spending the evening with civil-rights icons Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
Two real-life female blues singers are the centre of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and The United States vs Billie Holiday. Andra Day won Best Actress in a drama playing Holiday and the late Chadwick Boseman won Best Actor in a drama playing a trumpeter with Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor as a Black Panther Party leader in Judas and the Black Messiah.
British director Steve McQueen's series of five films Small Axe revisits black British history since WWII. Star Wars actor John Boyega won best supporting actor for one of the five, Red, White and Blue, the true story of Leroy Logan, who saw his Jamaican father assaulted by the Metropolitan Police and took the surprising decision to join the force himself to try to change institutional racism from the inside.
In the TV awards, The Crown again reigned supreme, with Best Series and three acting awards.
Where and when to watch:
Nomadland and The United States vs Billie Holiday on general release 21 April
One Night in Miami: available on Amazon Prime
Promising Young Woman and Judas and the Black Messiah : TBA
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and The Crown: available on Netflix
Small Axe: on streaming service Salto
Walt Disney Studios