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Chloé Zhao is 1st woman of color to win best director award at Oscars

The "Nomadland" director is only the second woman in Oscar history to win a directing award.
/ Source: TODAY

Chloé Zhao made Oscar history Sunday night when she became the first Asian woman — and the first woman of color — to win the best director award.

The "Nomadland" director, 39, is only the second woman to win an Academy Award for directing, following Kathryn Bigelow, who won more than a decade ago for her 2009 Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker."

Zhao, who was born in Beijing and later studied in London and the U.S., accepted the award with a heartwarming speech about the goodness of people.

Chloé Zhao made Oscar history when she became the first Asian woman — and the first woman of color — to win the best director award. Todd Wawrychuk / Reuters

"I've been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard. I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid when I was growing up in China, my Dad and I used to play this game. We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together," she said.

Zhao then recited in Chinese a short poem her father taught her.

"People at birth are inherently good," she said, translating the poem to English. "Those six letters had such an impact on me as a kid."

"Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true ... I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world," she continued.

Holding up her Oscar trophy, Zhao added, "This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other — no matter how difficult it is to do that."

"Nomadland" tells the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman in her 60s who, after losing everything, lives as a nomad in her van.

Zhao was nominated this year alongside another woman director, Emerald Fennell, who helmed 2020's "Promising Young Woman." David Fincher ("Mank"), Lee Isaac Chung ("Minari") and Thomas Vinterberg ("Another Round") rounded out the category.

In a conversation with TODAY's Natalie Morales after receiving her award, Zhao shared what her victory as the first women of color in the top-tier category means to hear.

"I'm extremely lucky to be able to do what I love for a living, and if this win means more people get to live their dreams, I'm extremely grateful," she said.

Before this year, only five women have been nominated for best director in the 93-year history of the Academy Awards: Bigelow, Greta Gerwig (2017's "Lady Bird"), Sofia Coppola (2003's "Lost in Translation"), Jane Campion (1993's "The Piano") and Lina Wertmüller (1976′s "Seven Beauties").

Zhao is also the only woman to score four Oscar nominations in a single year. She also competed this year in the best film editing, best adapted screenplay and best picture categories.

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