Chloe Zhao makes history at BAFTA Film Awards as ‘Nomadland’ dominates ceremony

Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News
·3 min read

Diversity has found a home at the BAFTAs with Chloe Zhao’s historic best director win for her movie about real-life nomads wandering the American West in “Nomadland.”

The director and screenwriter achieved a momentous milestone Sunday as the first woman of color to win best director at the British awards show.

The award was one of four honors received by “Nomandland,” which centers on a widow who travels the Western U.S. in a van after losing her job during an economic recession. The movie also took home the BAFTA trophies for best picture, best cinematography and best actress for star Frances McDormand.

The Chinese-born Zhao is only the second woman to win best director at a BAFTA Film Awards ceremony, following Kathryn Bigelow, who received the honor in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker.”

Zhao dedicated Sunday’s best film win to the nomadic community. Her film features numerous real-life nomads in its cast.

“They shared with us their dreams, their struggles and their deep sense of dignity,” Zhao said over a video stream. “Thank you for showing us that aging is a beautiful part of life, a journey we should all cherish and celebrate. How we treat our elders says a lot about who we are as a society and we need to do better.”

The 2021 edition of the BAFTA Film Awards was split into two days, with craft filmmaking honors announced Saturday ahead of Sunday’s larger ceremony.

This year’s event featured a much more diverse lineup of nominees after the British Academy of Film and Television Arts faced backlash in 2020 by only nominating white performers in the acting categories.

Zhao was one of four female filmmakers to be nominated for best director this year, marking the most ever in a single year. Last year, not a single woman was nominated in the category.

Other winners at Sunday’s ceremony, which celebrates films from Hollywood, the United Kingdom and throughout the world, also included Anthony Hopkins, who won best actor for his performance of a man battling memory loss in “The Father.”

Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for his portrayal of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in the historical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Kaluuya, who is nominated in the same category at this year’s Academy Awards, also won the equivalent honor at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Meanwhile, Yuh-Jung Youn followed up her SAG Awards win by taking home best supporting actress Sunday for her performance as a grandmother in “Minari,” a drama about a Korean American family starting a new life in rural Arkansas.

“Every award is meaningful but this one especially (being) recognized by British people, known as very snobbish people and they approve (of) me as a good actor, so I am very, very happy,” the Korean actress joked during her virtual acceptance speech.

“Nomadland” entered this weekend’s event with seven nominations, tying it for the most nods among any movie with the British drama “Rocks,” about a teenage girl who is abandoned by her mother and must take care of her younger brother.

To win the coveted best film race, “Nomadland” beat a loaded field that included “The Father,” the #MeToo revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman,” the historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7″ about anti-Vietnam War protesters, and the legal drama “The Mauritanian” about a man imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without being charged with a crime.

“Promising Young Woman,” which was directed by English filmmaker Emerald Fennell, won the BAFTA award for outstanding British film.

The EE Rising Star Award went to Bukky Bakra, who played the lead role in “Rocks.”

Saturday’s opening night ceremony saw “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which centers on a contentious recording session featuring the titular blue’s singer, win the awards for costume design and make up and hair.

The event honored Prince Philip, the first president of the BAFTA organization, who died Friday at age 99. His grandson, Prince William, is the current BAFTA president. William canceled his previously scheduled participation at this year’s BAFTA Film Awards following Philip’s death.