Chloe Zhao is everything I want to be—and not just because she’s a fanfic writer who’s become an Oscar winner.
She’s unapologetically herself. Her words, her work, and her style speak to a woman who knows who she is and shows that to the world without hesitation.
And who is she?
She’s a believer.
When she accepted her much-deserved Oscar for Best Director for Nomadland on Sunday night (making her only the second woman and first woman of color to earn this award—please let this pave the way for more female filmmakers!), she stood on that stage and gave us a glimpse into her soul. And in her vulnerability—her beautiful sharing of her truth—she gave voice to the very point of view that earned her this award, the thing that made Nomadland so unique in the sea of sadness that makes up most of the typical awards-season contenders.
Chloe Zhao believes in people.
She believes in the truth of the words she’s carried with her since she was a little girl memorizing poems with her father: “People at birth are inherently good.”
There’s something revolutionary about hearing those words in an Oscars acceptance speech, especially for Best Director. In so many cases, Oscar-winning movies are dark and depressing, focused on the worst in humanity and the awful things we can do to one another. And while the world needs those stories—we need to confront our darkness and we need the catharsis that comes with that kind of painful storytelling—the world needs the other kinds of stories too. The ones about healing rather than hurting. The ones that are warm and gentle instead of cold and brutal. The ones about light instead of darkness.
Sometimes we still want to believe there’s goodness left in humanity.
Sometimes we still need to believe that.
(And it’s often because we still need to believe there’s goodness left in ourselves.)
And that’s what Chloe Zhao gave us in Nomadland. This was a story about goodness. It didn’t pretend like the world was a perfect place or that the people in it were perfect people. There was still a lot of suffering and cruelty and loss. But it was all the more moving in its optimism for acknowledging that hard times will come and sometimes we’ll feel like outsiders in our own families and we’ll have to say goodbye to so many things and people as the world keeps turning—but we’ll find our place through the pain. We’ll find our people.
Because good people—people driven by a sense of community and kindness and warmth—still exist.
Nomadland was a movie about those people. It was a movie that made me cry not because it was sad (although it was at times) but because it was so unabashedly hopeful about humanity—about the ways we take care of each other, the ways we help each other heal, and the ways we form families of our choosing that make us feel like we belong.
This was a warm movie, and after hearing Chloe Zhao talk about her way of looking at the world, it was clear that every ounce of that warmth came from her. Everything that made that movie beautiful came from this woman who used her time on the biggest stage in Hollywood to talk about the fundamental goodness of the human race.
It takes bravery to believe. And in a year like this one, it can feel almost impossible. But that’s what makes people like Chloe Zhao so important. We need people who see the flaws first and work to call them out and to fix them. But we also need people who see the best we can be.
I want to be one of those people.
I want to, as she said so beautifully, hold onto the goodness in myself and the goodness in other people.
I want to be like Chloe Zhao—a proud believer whose work is better because of her belief, not despite it, and a woman who took a night that was filled with missteps and gave it one true moment of transcendence.