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Get to Know ‘Eternals’ Director and Academy Award Winner Chlo​​é Zhao

You may know Chloé Zhao for being the first woman of color to win Best Director at the Oscars for her film Nomadland. After writing, directing, editing, and producing her critically acclaimed 2020 movie, Chloé Zhao has embarked on her next big career venture: directing a film for the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

Let’s take a deep dive into the life and career of the Eternals director to prepare for its release on Friday, November 5!

How Chloé Zhao began her career as a filmmaker

Chloé Zhao was born in Beijing, China, where she lived until she was a teenager. Chloé told Vogue that growing up, she felt “‘constricted by ‘an ancient culture where I was expected to be a certain way.’” In 1998, Chloé Zhao moved to Sussex, England to attend the boarding school Brighton College. She then finished high school in Los Angeles.

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In her Vogue interview, Chloé Zhao said that as a teenager, she fell in love with Wong Kar Wai’s film Happy Together. According to USA Today, this was the “film that made [her] want to make films.” After graduating high school, Chloé attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts where she studied politics with a minor in film studies.

After completing her Bachelor’s program in 2005, Chloé Zhao enrolled in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. For her graduate project, she created a short movie called Daughters about a rural Chinese girl who escapes an arranged marriage.

When speaking with Interview Magazine, Chloé Zhao shared that since she was a teen she has been heavily influenced by Western culture, which has followed her into her filmmaking. She said that the West “represents a chance to rediscover who you are. You’re taken out of your comfort zone of the East.”

Chloé Zhao movies: Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)

Chloé Zhao’s first feature film was the coming-of-age drama tragedy Songs My Brothers Taught Me. Chloé Zhao directed, wrote, produced, and edited this film, which explores the relationship between a Lakota Sioux teen and his younger sister.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me was also produced by Forest Whitaker, Mollye Asher, Angela C. Lee, and Nina Yang Bongiovi. The film was developed at the Sundance Institute Workshops and Premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Chloé Zhao wrote the script about a boy who lives at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. According to Brittanica, Chloé spent time on the reservation and learned a lot from the people there. She then used this knowledge to make revisions to the script.

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Songs My Brothers Taught Me focuses on a boy graduating from high school who faces the difficult decision of following his girlfriend to Los Angeles or staying home to support his mother and sister. The film, which stars John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Travis Lone Hill, and Taysha Fuller, was nominated for a Caméra d’Or at Cannes Film festival and a Best First Feature Independent Spirit Award.

Chloé Zhao movies: The Rider (2017)

Chloé Zhao wrote, directed, and produced the contemporary Western film The Rider starring Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, and Lilly Jandreau. The story is loosely based on the life of Brady Jandreau, who Chloé Zhao met on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Brady Jandreau is a former rodeo bronco rider and horse trainer who suffered from a crushed skull following a riding accident. This led to a brain injury, which weakened Brady’s right hand and left him susceptible to seizures. The Rider follows Brady as he comes to terms with the direction his life is headed after the accident.

The Rider was also produced by Mollye Asher, Bert Hamelinck, and Sacha Ben Harroche. The film won the Art Cinema award at the Cannes Film Festival and made many Top 10 Film lists in 2018. The movie was even included on former U.S. president Barack Obama’s list of favorite films from 2018!

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John Powers of Vogue wrote that The Rider “weaves together” documentary and fiction, and that Chloé Zhao “reinvents our sense of the Western” with this film.

Chloé Zhao movies: Nomadland (2020)

Chloé Zhao is probably best known for her Academy Award-winning drama Nomadland. The film is based on Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century (2017), which tells the story of retirement-age Americans who live in RVs and travel around the country looking for low-paying jobs.

Nomadland was also produced by Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, and Frances McDormand, who also starred in the film. Frances played the fictional character of Fern, a widow who begins to travel after the gypsum plan she worked at goes out of business. The film also stars David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells, who were real-life nomads featured in Jessica Bruder’s book.

Nomadland premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, the highest prize given at the festival. The film also won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s review of Nomadland, David Rooney wrote “Collaborating with her regular cinematographer Joshua James Richards, Zhao blurs the line between narrative and vérité documentary. She frames her subjects against majestic landscapes and gorgeous watercolor sunsets but never aestheticizes nature for postcard effect.”

At the 93rd Academy Awards, Nomadland won Best Picture and Chloé Zhao became the second woman and first woman of color to win Best Director.

“If this win helps more people like me get to live their dreams I’m so grateful for this,” Chloé Zhao told Entertainment Tonight about her success.

Chloé Zhao movies: Eternals (2021)

Chloé Zhao is about to release what may be her biggest project yet: Marvel’s Eternals. Eternals is an upcoming film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie follows the Eternals, an immortal alien race secretly living on earth, who reunite to protect the planet from a villainous race known as the Deviants. The film takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Eternals has a star-studded cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. Chloé Zhao wrote and directed the film. It was also written by Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo, and produced by Kevin Feige and Nate Moore.

Following its Hollywood premiere, Eternals has received praise from critics and Marvel fans. Glen Weldon of NPR said it was “”the most gorgeous MCU film to date.” He wrote: “Eternals’ cinematography is where Zhao’s directorial voice is most strongly and clearly felt. She bathes scene after scene in the last rays of sunsets, and places her characters small in the frame so they get dwarfed by the vast landscapes of a desert oasis, a volcanic island, or the American prairie.

This TikTok creator said that Eternals is a large-scale character study that includes a number of beautiful shots throughout the film.

@straw_hat_goofyThank you for the invite @marvel @marvelstudios♬ Marvel Studios Fanfare – Geek Music

Eternals has also garnered attention for being the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to include queer representation among its characters. In an interview with Variety, Chloé Zhao said that as a fan of the MCU, she wanted to bring something new to the film series while still capturing the essence of Marvel.

What to expect from Chloé Zhao next

In 2018, it was announced that Chloé Zhao will be writing and directing a biopic about Bass Reeves, the first Black US Deputy Marshal. The film will be produced by Amazon Studios and a release date has not yet been announced.

Chloé Zhao will also take on the iconic Universal character Dracula, for which she will write, direct, and produce a futuristic sci-fi Western. When this news was revealed, Universal Pictures President Peter Cramer said “We are thrilled to be working with [Chloé Zhao] as she reimagines one of the most iconic outsider characters ever created.”

We can’t wait to see more from Chloé Zhao and are so excited to see her artistry come to life on the big screen in Eternals!

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