- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Two-time Oscar winner Chloé Zhao does not want to be one of the few exceptions.
From Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider to Nomadland and Eternals, Zhao knows how to make an impact onscreen, but now she’s determined to make a difference offscreen, so that the list of Oscar-winning female directors can someday become significantly longer than just her, Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow.
To get the ball rolling, Zhao has now teamed up with Johnnie Walker’s First Strides Initiative and Women in Film to celebrate female filmmakers and create further opportunities for women both in front of and behind the camera. To commemorate their partnership at the upcoming 16th Annual Women in Film Oscar Party, Johnnie Walker commissioned a custom red carpet with panels that pay tribute to other notable women directors including Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ana Lily Amirpour, Janicza Bravo, Christine Choy, Julie Dash, Wanuri Kahiu and Claire Denis.
In 2020, Zhao’s film Nomadland won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and the following year, when she returned as an Oscar-winning filmmaker to serve on the jury, she discovered just how much her support can mean to rising female talents like Happening director Audrey Diwan.
“I was in Venice when Happening won the Golden Lion, and I was able to be there for [filmmaker] Audrey [Diwan] and have a conversation with her,” Zhao tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, to be able to talk it through with her — and then later on hear that it was beneficial for her — reminded me that no matter how long or short your career is, you always have something to share and you’re always able to help someone else.”
Below, in a recent conversation with THR, Zhao also sheds just a little bit of light on what’s next for her career.
Well, Johnnie Walker and Chloé Zhao is certainly not the most obvious pairing. What prompted this partnership?
When they first came to me and I heard about what they have been doing, it sounded like a really exciting partnership that they have with Women in Film. And I just thought it would be really exciting to join them to celebrate [women in film], but also create more visibility and support for women filmmakers and women-made films.
Gina Prince-Bythewood is also involved with this initiative, and she recently contributed a column for THR about The Woman King, Till and Saint Omer being shut out at the 95th Academy Awards. So, as a woman of color yourself who has two Oscars on her shelf, do you agree with Gina’s position that the Academy still has a ways to go, especially with regard to Black filmmakers and women directors?
I thought Gina wrote a really, really profound and very deep understanding of what is going on. I was really impressed by her article, and I definitely agree with her.
There was a situation recently when you awarded Daniels with the top prize at the DGA Awards, and a media outlet miscaptioned you as Stephanie Hsu. Something similar happened to Hong Chau at the BAFTAs as well. Considering that you’ve all reached the top of your professions, is it beyond frustrating that this is happening in 2023?
Oh, I didn’t know that. Wow. Stephanie is amazing, by the way. She is incredible. I had a little chat with her backstage, and it sounds like she has some interesting things cooking. So I’m really excited to see what she does next.
Do you think Everything Everywhere All at Once is going to take best picture this year?
Yeah, I feel that’s the case, but I don’t want to jinx it, so I’m not making predictions. I have a bad record of doing that.
One of my favorite images from last year involves Alejandro G. Iñárritu holding court at Telluride and smoking a cigarette, while you were crouching in front of him and hanging on his every word. Is he now in the company of people like Denis Villeneuve who’ve been especially supportive of you?
[He’s] been really incredible. Even going to the DGA [Awards] and running into all the directors, you find that there’s a lot of camaraderie between directors, and it’s incredible to be able to have that opportunity to be in the room with these filmmakers whose works have inspired me to be a filmmaker. Yeah, I was hanging on to every word he said.
In the same way that Iñárritu and Villeneuve have been supportive of you, do you make a point to reach out to up-and-coming female filmmakers?
Well, in 2021, I was in Venice when Happening won the Golden Lion, and I was able to be there for [filmmaker] Audrey [Diwan] and have a conversation with her. I’ve experienced certain things like that [with Nomadland and The Rider], and I understand how complex the situation is. So, to be able to sit there with her and talk it through with her — and then later on hear that it was beneficial for her — reminded me that no matter how long or short your career is, you always have something to share and you’re always able to help someone else.
So, what can you tell me about this year’s Women in Film Oscar Party?
It’s really cool. We have these seven filmmakers and powerful artists that are so diverse, so unique and so authentic, and Johnnie Walker created a carpet that is tailored to them. I just saw the graphics, and I’m so excited to see what it looks like. Female friendship isn’t the easiest thing to come by in the industry; it’s hard to find each other. So, to have an event like this that gets everybody together is always amazing. And for Johnnie Walker to support women in film with networking events and also putting money into projects directly is incredible, and that’s why I’m here.
Did you have existing relationships with the other women directors who are a part of this campaign, such as Claire Denis, Janicza Bravo and Ana Lily Amirpour?
I wish I had an existing relationship with Claire Denis, but no, I only watch her from afar. But I’ve actually met Janicza, and she is so cool. She exists in a whole other dimension, and I said to her that she creates things that I wouldn’t even imagine. That’s how her brain works. And Ana Lily, I’ve been loving her since A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I remember when that film came out at Sundance, and it blew my mind.
And what’s MUBI’s role in the initiative?
Johnnie Walker is doing an awesome collaboration with MUBI where you can get a 30-day free trial. They have an awesome interface that they curated for women-directed films, and you have direct access to them. When they were showing it to me, I saw my own film, and I was like, “Oh, that’s sweet.” So I watch MUBI, and to know that there’s an interface [for women directors] is pretty awesome and exciting.
As I told you at the Eternals junket, I’m a huge fan of your film because you did something new with Marvel in terms of storytelling and the manner of production. And while there have been rumors about Eternals 2 for a little while now, is that something you’re still interested in pursuing?
The reaction to your film was baffling because Marvel films are often criticized for not being unique enough from each other, but then your work was criticized for not being familiar enough. Was that frustrating as well?
When you’re in Marvel and when you’re dealing with an audience that big, I truly treasure and respect that each of us is so unique. It’s exciting that we’re all so different, and we’re all changing and growing every day. But with a global audience, it’s almost impossible to make everybody perfectly happy, and to do that is to say that everyone is the same. So I think there’s inevitably going to be that [difference of opinion], and you just have to stay true to the kind of film you want to make and who you are and the people you’re collaborating with. That’s all you can do, really, and have a good time. Everything else is out of your control.
In Back to the Future, when Marty finishes performing “Johnny B. Goode” to a bunch of blank stares, he says, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are going to love it.” He obviously already knew that rock ‘n’ roll would catch on very soon, but my roundabout point is that I think your movie is going to be reappraised favorably as time goes by.
That’s so sweet of you. Thank you. That made my day. When you’re making films, timelessness [is the goal] if you’re lucky. You definitely don’t want to make films just for the moment. But you first have to be true to yourself, because at the end of the day, you’re with yourself. So, if you get lucky and your film ages [well] with the audience and the culture, it’s a beautiful thing, and I’ll be lucky if that happens.
Lastly, is your Dracula film still in development?
Yes, I’m writing the script right now.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
Venice Film Festival
Venice Film Festival: Liliana Cavani, Tony Leung to Receive Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Amy Jo Johnson Slams Claim She’s Not in ‘Power Rangers’ Anniversary Special for Financial Reasons: “Simply Not True”
Florence Pugh Says She Chopped Off Her Own Hair for ‘A Good Person’: “Found it Really Liberating”