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Daily Drip

“Nomadland” Now a No Go in China as Film Removed from Cinema Schedules

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Last week, Nomadland was granted a short run in Chinese cinemas to coincide with a wave of hype around its Golden Globe wins. Yet just a few days later, the release of Chloé Zhao’s film in Chinese cinemas appears in some doubt.

Shortly after the movie picked up Golden Globe awards for Director of a Motion Picture and Drama Motion Picture, a special poster for Nomadland were released in China touting the award wins and Zhao’s roots, with her name preceded by the words “Chinese director.” The prominence of that text immediately led to memes on the Chinese internet, but debate around the Beijing-born director’s views and citizenship status appear to have possibly derailed the film’s run in Chinese theaters.

nomadland meme china chloe zhao

A reworked poster for Nomadland replaces the film’s title with the words “Chinese director”

The film was originally due to be given a limited run in April in China, which would have put it on Chinese cinema screens just days before the Academy Awards. But late on Friday night China time reports emerged that the hotly-tipped Oscar contender’s China screening date had been deleted on movie websites and social media posts about the film were being censored.

The removal appears linked to nationalist backlash against Zhao, with a wave of commenters online demanding to know whether the director still held Chinese citizenship and digging up comments about China attributed to her in old English-language interviews.

Zhao, who made history as the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe in the director category, left China to attend school in London and LA before studying filmmaking in New York. She won critical acclaim for her first two feature films, 2015’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017 drama The Rider, both of which were filmed in South Dakota, while Nomadland has so far been among the films dominating awards season.

One article that appeared to have attracted considerable ire came from news.com.au, although crucially in that case Zhao appears to have been misquoted. A clarifying editor’s note on the piece reads, “A version of this article originally published in December incorrectly quoted Ms Zhao as saying America is ‘now’ her country, it has been updated to reflect she said ‘not’ her country.”

Another flashpoint emerged over a 2013 interview Zhao gave to Filmmaker in which she contrasted her experiences in the US with those of her youth “in a place where there are lies everywhere.”

Variety is reporting that distributors are still hopeful Nomadland‘s China release will go ahead, albeit with considerably less fanfare. It could be fascinating to see what the reaction is like in China if Zhao then goes on to win an Oscar.

Cover photo: Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.