New York University: NYU Tisch Alumna, Chloé Zhao, Makes History at 2021 Academy Awards

Chloé Zhao (TSOA), an alumna of NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ Graduate Film program, made Oscars history at the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday, April 25, becoming the first Asian woman to take home the trophy for Best Director for Nomadland, her haunting feature exploring the lives of van-dwelling modern-day nomads in the American West. A woman of color had never before won the Oscar for Best Director and Zhao is only the second woman to do so in the show’s 93-year history.

Nomadland also won the award for Best Picture, marking two Oscar wins for Zhao, and one for her collaborator and former NYU classmate, Mollye Asher (TSOA ’99, ’14), producer for Nomadland. Nomadland cinematographer Joshua James Richards (TSOA) earned a nomination for Best Cinematography and is also an NYU Tisch Grad Film alumnus. Zhao, Asher, and Richards all met and started collaborating while studying at NYU.

Shaka King (TSOA ’13), Judas and the Black Messiah director, was also in the running for Best Picture along with Zhao, and made history with the first all-Black producing team for a Best Picture nominee. King also entered NYU’s Grad Film program in 2007 with Zhao, Asher, and Richards—marking four NYU alumni from the same class among the 2021 Oscar nominees.

NYU’s Grad Film faculty remembers the Class of 2007 as particularly close-knit, intense, and competitive, often breaking the mold set by earlier filmmakers. Zhao and King’s former professor Jay Anania says “if you put a piece of string, a toothpick, and an egg on a table, they could figure out what to make out of it.”

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