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This year's Oscars could have been a moment of pride for China. Then politics got in the way

Published on April 26, 2021 9:37 AM
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See how China has reacted to Chloe Zhao's historic Oscars win The Academy Awards this year could have been a major moment of pride for China

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HONG KONG - The Academy Awards this year could have been a major moment of pride for China.

Chloe Zhao, a Beijing-born filmmaker, made history Sunday by winning the best director Oscar for her movie "Nomadland" -- becoming the first Asian woman and only the second woman to ever win the award. Zhao's movie also won the best picture.

But China is not celebrating -- at least not officially.

On the contrary, this year's Oscars was not aired anywhere in China -- including on two major streaming platforms where the annual ceremony had been shown live in previous years. In Hong Kong, a leading broadcaster opted not to air the Oscars for the first time in more than half a century.

Even as Zhao's victory makes headlines around the world, Chinese state media has remained conspicuously quiet. Hours after the announcement, no reports of her win could be found on the websites of state news agency Xinhua or state broadcaster CCTV. Social media posts sharing the news of her victory have also been censored.

The official silence is in contrast to March when Zhao won the best director at the Golden Globes. Back then, Chinese state media was quick to congratulate Zhao, with nationalist tabloid the Global Times calling her "the pride of China."

But praise for Zhao didn't last long. Chinese internet users dug up a 2013 interview she gave to US movie magazine Filmmaker, during which she appeared to criticize the China of her childhood as a place "where there are lies everywhere." In another more recent interview with Australian media, Zhao was quoted as saying the United States "is now my country, ultimately." The site later clarified Zhao had been misquoted -- what she actually said was the US "is not my country."

But the damage was done. China's online nationalists rushed to attack Zhao, accusing her of "smearing China." Some even called for a boycott of the movie.

Before long, promotional materials for Zhao's "Nomadland" disappeared from the social media site Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform. The film, which was originally scheduled to be released in China on April 23, was also removed from the country's major movie websites. As of Monday, there is no indication "Nomadland" is coming to Chinese theatres anytime soon.

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