Director Deep Focus: Chloé Zhao

Story posted December 15, 2021 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by Erell Williams

Chloé Zhao was born March 31, 1982 in Beijing, China. She was introduced to film at a young age and originally wanted to be an animator as she held strong interests in manga and movies.

When she came to the US, she pursued a degree in politics with a minor in film studies and eventually attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to achieve a B.A in film. For her graduate studies she created her short film “Daughters” which explores the life of a young Chinese girl who wants to escape an arranged marriage.

Zhao’s films focus on the lives of the underrepresented people especially in America, which even aligns with her preferred use of nonprofessional actors. Her first feature film was “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” shown at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, which focused on the story of a Native American boy who is conflicted about moving away from the reserve where his family lives.

Zhao is most known for her achievement of being the second woman to receive the Academy Award for Best Director with the movie “Nomadland.” Her films certainly show promise to speak to a variety of audiences by displaying different unexplored worlds.

“Nomadland” (2020)

“Nomadland” is certainly one of the most beautifully directed films out there and is well-deserving of its praise.

Many of Zhao’s films try to remain as natural as possible and this exploration of finding the joy in life after a steep decline is a wonderful watch. There isn’t a single shot that feels out of place or unnatural and each scene helps develop the perspective of the main character.

Zhao’s vision for the journey that takes place is daunting and familiar to everyday people and even reaches beyond spirituality.

The film doesn’t use fancy tricks or well-known faces to get the job done and that is definitely one of the reasons Zhao’s directing can reach the heart of the audience.

“Songs My Brother Taught Me” (2015)

This film is a great watch to see Zhao’s magic in making a movie feel extremely honest and intimate for viewers.

It is evident throughout the movie that Zhao put a lot of work into spending time with the Native Americans of the reservation and the rawness of the story is portrayed fluidly. Nothing about the film seems dramatized and it is truly a beautiful example of good storytelling.

The actors in the film are almost entirely from the reservations and Zhao’s ethics are present even behind the scenes.

“Eternals” (2021)

“Eternals” was a new direction for Zhao and showcases her flexibility. While the film received an overwhelming amount of hate, it still is worthy of recognition.

The movie contains popular actors and more cliche shots than what Zhao usually produces, but it still has her flair. Zhao’s focus on showing underrepresented groups of people and additions of philosophical dialogue is seen throughout, and her goals to make the experience more immersive were certainly achieved and underappreciated.

If Zhao decides to do another dive into the hero world, with a bit more of her influence, it will be an amazing opportunity to see something more unique and original and “Eternals” shows that potential.

Erell Williams is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her email

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Erell Williams

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Erell Williams is a first-year student, and her intended majors are Broadcasting Journalism and Chinese. She grew up in Douglassville, Pennsylvania. She is a member of the CommRadio News and Arts department. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).