Nomadland's China release in doubt after nationalist backlash

Ms Chloe Zhao is the first Asian woman to win the best director Golden Globe and the first woman to win best drama. PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Chloe Zhao is the first Asian woman to win the best director Golden Globe and the first woman to win best drama. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • A nationalist backlash to Golden Globe-winning American road movie Nomadland has cast doubt over its China release after social media users and state media questioned its director Chloe Zhao's loyalty to her birth country.

Ms Zhao became the first Asian woman to win the best director Golden Globe and the first woman to win best drama with the semi-fictional film, which stars Oscar winner Frances McDormand alongside a rag-tag bunch of non-actors living on the open road in the American West.

Ms Zhao's win last week was initially celebrated in China, with state media calling the Beijing-born filmmaker a "Chinese female director" and "the pride of China".

The Chinese film authorities approved Nomadland for a domestic release on April 23 through the government-backed National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas, the organisation announced last Monday.

But major online box office apps removed the release date from their platforms after a controversy erupted over years-old comments by Ms Zhao, leaving the film's release in Chinese cinemas uncertain, entertainment magazine Variety reported on Friday.

Social media users had dug up old interviews with Ms Zhao soon after her historic win in which she appeared to criticise China.

A screenshot of Ms Zhao's 2013 interview with Filmmaker magazine, in which she reportedly called China "a place where there are lies everywhere", and another interview with Australian media in which she allegedly said "the US is now my country", had circulated on Twitter-like Weibo last week.

The comments prompted online users to call her a "traitor" and social media in China was awash with posts questioning her nationality.

Neither quote remained on the online versions of the two interviews.

The Weibo hashtag for Nomadland was no longer searchable yesterday, although discussion of the film and Ms Zhao did not appear to be censored in any other way.

The state-owned tabloid Global Times covered the backlash, saying Ms Zhao had made "controversial comments", a day after lauding her as "the pride of China".

But other netizens have defended Ms Zhao.

"She's a director, not a politician, and has never been involved in political activities, and her work has nothing to do with China," one Weibo user wrote yesterday, in defence of Ms Zhao. "Isn't this too harsh, regardless of whether she has Chinese nationality?"

China's cinemas have almost returned to normal after the country successfully contained domestic Covid-19 infections.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 07, 2021, with the headline 'Nomadland's China release in doubt after nationalist backlash'. Subscribe