LONDON — “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao’s film about a woman forced to join the rising numbers of Americans living out of vans as they search for work, was the big winner at the EE British Academy Film Awards in London on Sunday.
It was named best film at Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars, better known as the BAFTAs, beating the likes of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the much-hyped “Promising Young Woman,” starring Carey Mulligan.
Zhao was also named best director, while Frances McDormand, the star of “Nomadland,” won best actress. The film, which has been heavily praised by British critics for its “delicate, incisive portrait of a life lived on the road,” also took the award for best cinematography.
notable for their diversity, in stark contrast to last year’s awards when no people of color were nominated in the main acting categories, and no women were nominated for best director, prompting a social media outcry.
In response, BAFTA made a host of rule changes, including requiring its members to undergo unconscious bias training before voting and involving juries in several categories.
The Father,” where he plays a man struggling with dementia, beating the likes of Riz Ahmed for his portrayal of a musician losing his hearing in “Sound of Metal,” and Chadwick Boseman for his starring role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
But Daniel Kaluuya was named best supporting actor for his role as Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” repeating his success at the Golden Globes. Yuh-Jung Youn, the veteran Korean actress, won best supporting actress for her role in “Minari.”
British people “are known as very snobbish” Youn said in her acceptance speech, saying the award meant more because of that.
The success of “Nomadland” is likely to increase hype around the film ahead of this year’s Oscars, scheduled for April 25, where it is nominated for six awards.
The BAFTAs are normally seen as a bellwether for the Academy Awards because there is some overlap between the 7,000-strong membership of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which organizes the BAFTAs, and the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Although four of the movies contending for the best picture Oscar — “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari” and “Sound of Metal” — were not nominated in the BAFTAs best film category.
When Chloé Zhao won the Golden Globe for best director for her film “Nomadland” last Sunday, becoming the first Asian woman to receive that prize, Chinese state news outlets were jubilant. “The Pride of China!” read one headline, referring to Ms. Zhao, who was born in Beijing.
But the mood quickly shifted. Chinese online sleuths dug up a 2013 interview with an American film magazine in which Ms. Zhao criticized her native country, calling it a place “where there are lies everywhere.” And they zeroed in on another, more recent interview with an Australian website in which Ms. Zhao, who received much of her education in the United States and now lives there, was quoted as saying: “The U.S. is now my country, ultimately.”
The Australian site later added a note saying that it had misquoted Ms. Zhao, and that she had actually said “not my country.” But the damage was done.
Chinese nationalists pounced online. What was her nationality, they wanted to know. Was she Chinese or American? Why should China celebrate her success if she’s American?
increasingly complex political minefield that companies must navigate there.
only major gatekeeper for films in China, determining which foreign movies got the official stamp of approval and, ultimately, access to the country’s booming box office. Now, more and more, China’s online patriots can also influence the fate of a film or a company.
little pinks,” has become another crucial consideration for companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.
“There is much more space to punch figures like Chloé Zhao,” said Aynne Kokas, the author of “Hollywood Made in China.”
The backlash against “Nomadland” was somewhat unexpected. Aside from Ms. Zhao, the film, which stars Frances McDormand in a sensitive portrait of the lives of itinerant Americans, has little if any connection to China. Though it is said to be a strong contender for the Academy Awards, it was not expected to bring in big Chinese audiences, given its limited theatrical release and its slow pacing.
But the patriotic frenzy could become a significant issue for another film directed by Ms. Zhao, “The Eternals,” a big-budget superhero movie for Disney’s Marvel Studios starring Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani and Salma Hayek. It is scheduled to debut in the United States in November, but a China release date has not been publicly announced.
Experts say that while Ms. Zhao’s background would likely have been a major selling point for “The Eternals” in China, it could now become an Achilles’ heel — a potentially devastating blow for the film and for Marvel, which has reaped huge rewards in the Chinese market with movies like “Avengers: Endgame.”
Such a scenario would be especially damaging this year, with the pandemic having decimated box offices in almost all major markets but China, where the virus is largely under control and the domestic film industry is thriving.
previously reported by Variety. “As the world’s largest market, there is much less need to bring Hollywood studio films into the market.”
Until recently, few in China had heard of Ms. Zhao, 38.
Born in Beijing, she went to boarding school in London, to high school in California and ultimately to film school at New York University. Before “Nomadland,” Ms. Zhao gained recognition for the critically acclaimed art films “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” (2015) and “The Rider” (2017).
In China, though, she was best known as the stepdaughter of the popular comic actress Song Dandan, who in 1997 married Ms. Zhao’s father, the former head of a Chinese state-owned steel company.
Ms. Zhao has spoken about what she sees as her shifting identity, a product, she said, of years spent moving around the world. She has described her Chinese heritage as part of that identity.
In a recent profile in New York magazine, Ms. Zhao referred to northerners in China as “my own people” and described herself as being “from China.” Global Times, a Chinese state-backed nationalist tabloid, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that Disney had said that Ms. Zhao was a Chinese national.
archived versions of the webpage. But by mid-February, the quote had been removed and a note added, saying that the article had been “edited and condensed after publication.” The quote is not in the latest version of the article, though it appears elsewhere on the magazine’s website.
Filmmaker Magazine did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Disney. Ms. Zhao could not be reached for comment.
Amid the nationalist-tinged outcry, many Chinese rushed to defend Ms. Zhao and heap scorn on the “little pinks” for being overly sensitive. “Nomadland” was a beautiful movie, many said, one that rose above the ugliness of politics and national borders.
Nothing comparable to its unflinching portrayal of the struggles of gig workers and America’s fraying social safety net could have been made in China, others said. On Douban, a review website popular with relatively liberal-minded Chinese, the film has nearly 66,000 reviews and a strong rating of 8.4 out of 10.
Some commenters also pointed out the irony that Chinese nationalists would want to clamp down on a film that seemed to fit so well with the narrative that official propaganda organs had recently been touting, of a rising China and a United States in decline.
“Chloé Zhao’s ‘Nomadland’ deeply reveals the crisis of America’s lower-class citizens and the difficult lives of its people,” Qiao Mu, a former professor of communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, wrote on Weibo. “This should strengthen our pride in socialism and our self-confidence in the Chinese way.”
“She is the pride of the Chinese people,” he added, “not someone who insults China.”