The “Nomadland” director is also only the second woman to win the award. The first was Kathryn Bigelow, who won for “Hurt Locker.”
“This is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold out to the goodness in themselves and to hold out to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that,” she said in her acceptance speech. “You inspire me to keep going.”
This year was the first year ever that two women were nominated for best director. Zhao was joined in the category by Emerald Fennell, the director of “Promising Young Woman.”
In the Oscars 93-year history only seven women have been nominated, including Zhao and Fennell. The others were Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and Bigelow.
This year was also the first time two Asian directors were nominated in the same year. The other was “Minari’s” Lee Isaac Chung.
Zhao’s win was instantly celebrated by other creatives in the industry.