Zhao, a 38-year-old native of Beijing, China, won for Nomadland, which follows Fern (played by Frances McDormand) as she embarks on a new life as a van-dwelling nomad, traveling the American West. Nomadland also won Best Motion Picture – Drama during tonight’s Golden Globes.
Prior to Zhao’s victory, Barbra Streisand had been the only woman to ever win Best Director at the Golden Globes. Streisand earned the prize in 1984 for Yentl. In fact, over the course of the Golden Globes first 77 years, only five women total had been nominated for top filmmaker: Streisand, Ava DuVernay, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow.
That number climbed to eight this year, as in addition to Zhao, Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and Regina King (One Night in Miami) were nominated for Best Director. Presenter Bryce Dallas Howard acknowledged the historic occasion, noting, “For the first time in Golden Globes history, there are three women nominated for best director, motion picture. May there be many, many more.”
Find the full winners list from the 2021 Golden Globes here.