Chinese director Zhao Ting became the first non-white female director to win the Academy Award for Best Director for Nomadland, but her win was blocked by the Chinese internet. Some film professionals say that artistic creation should transcend politics and have compassion for human suffering, and that there is no shortage of talented and stylish artistic creators like Zhao Ting in China, who are unfortunately silenced and shut out of the public eye, but still shine like a ground fire, silently brewing works that will be passed on to future generations.
On April 25, Ting Zhao spoke on the Oscar podium about the profound influence Chinese culture has had on her, “I’ve always wondered lately how I keep going when things get tough. Perhaps it goes back to when I was growing up in China and my father recited ancient poems with me, one after the other. The one I remember very clearly is the Three Character Classic, the first line of which is ‘At the beginning of man, nature is good’. These six words had a great impact on me as a child and I still believe in them to this day, even if sometimes reality seems to be the opposite, though I always find goodness in the people I meet around the world.”
Zhao Ting became the third Asian director to win the Oscar for Best Director, after South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho and Taiwan’s Ang Lee, winning international applause, but Chinese media and social media platforms were silent.
True art should transcend ideology
Chinese independent director Zhu Rikun said, “Land of the Unwanted” is entirely produced by the United States and has nothing to do with China. The film is exquisitely made, with a convergent and simple expression and a strong sense of form, and is considered a masterpiece between Hollywood and American independent films.
Zhu Rikun: “The Three Character Classic is a very superficial and ABC old Chinese enlightenment textbook, which is very outdated in the modern sense and even contains many contents that are at odds with universal values. The Land of the Unwanted film itself is just a common phenomenon in American cinema, and the widespread attention and even controversy over the director’s ethnicity, gender, and her political affiliation is itself indicative of the rapid changes in the world.”
The documentary “Do Not Split,” which chronicles Hong Kong’s “anti-China movement,” was nominated for an Oscar this year for best short documentary, prompting the Communist Party to ban live coverage of the award ceremony by the mainland media. “Sina Film, Watch Hollywood, Houson Monkey and other Weibo accounts and netizens were the first to retweet and wish Zhao Ting well yesterday, but the post was quickly deleted, including by Global Times editor Hu Xijin. The Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin’s earlier congratulatory tweet.
An English-language editorial published in the Global Times on the 26th wrote that as U.S.-China relations deteriorate rapidly, Zhao Ting should be more mature, play an intermediary role and avoid being the focus of friction, taking advantage of her special status rather than avoiding it.
Chinese filmmaker Fang Li, who worked on “Summer Palace” and “Guanyin Mountain,” said many insiders gave “Land of the Unwanted” a “realistic, vivid and delicate” review, and that true art should transcend ideology.
Fang Li: “Their comments include the truthfulness of the plot and character performances, the documentary approach, the keen observation and the vividness of the characters. (Zhao Ting) The compassion for people is very strong. The mission of literary artists is not to play ambassador or diplomat in geopolitics, but to instinctively record and express, to see the world with cross-border, fundamental human values. Zhao Ting’s own experience also represents what transcends geopolitics and ideology, which is universal values and universal humanity.”
Land of the Unwanted focuses on the lives of a group of socially marginalized people in the Midwest who make their homes in their cars and drift from place to place in South Dakota and Nebraska in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (Great Recession).
Tiger Temple, a fifty-eight-year-old Chinese citizen journalist and documentary filmmaker, finds in the protagonist, Fern, the shadow of countless Chinese elderly people, only with more desperation and less poetry, openness and dignity: “Chinese elderly people definitely don’t put themselves on the road, they go into the nest. Social security benefits don’t provide you with the conditions, plus people have different cultural backgrounds. If I were to make one, I would portray them facing the end of the road, everyone is inevitably coming to the end. Late at night when a few friends talk about it, they all have a fondness for the world that young people cannot understand.”
A Weibo user sighed under Zhao Ting’s award-winning post, saying that Americans have “Land of the Unwanted”, Koreans have “Parasites”, and Chinese have “Hello, Li Huanying”.
He believes that although many new generation filmmakers are “as sweet as chocolate and strawberries, skillful and pretending to be deep, there is nothing inside”; however, he also has many independent filmmaker friends who are dedicated to their work, “People don’t say it anymore, not to prove that there is no such thought, but rather The ideas are deeper; it happens that many of the friends who go out are only angry.”
For example, Hu Jie directed “The Plague of Liaocuo” on the Xinyang famine interviews research local party committee secretary to governor and hundreds of others, in the heart of the tiger temple is an epic work, Hu Jie in the mountains, in the countryside, at the bottom of the whole body submerged in the record, even if the release is hopeless.
“It is Lu Xun said that the ground fire, regardless of the Pentium or not, stop there, hidden, but also the ground fire, mineral deposits, more valuable.” Tiger Temple said that many Chinese independent directors are on the ground of no dependence, playing the role of the ground fire.
“China is a hidden dragon and crouching tiger, appearing many critics, unable to break free, so it is very painful. But anger produces poets, just like the first generation of college students after the Cultural Revolution were considered the pride of the times. That’s why my vision turned to independent films, many of which are made for the ‘afterlife’. Nowadays, they are restricted from participating abroad, and the Film Office has rules that they have to lose all their money if they win a prize. They are doing it regardless of the cost, which is the land of the unsupported, but they still insist on doing it.”
Chinese-American director Zhao Ting won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director for her film “Land of the Unwanted” (AFP)
From “China’s pride” to a sensitive word
Zhao Ting was once hailed as “the pride of China” by the Communist Party’s official media after winning the Golden Globe, but in an interview with foreign media in 2013, she mentioned that when she was young, China was “a place full of lies”, leading to “insulting” criticism. The “Land of the Unwanted”, which was scheduled to be released in China on April 23, was also withdrawn.
“A lot of the information I received as a child was incorrect, and I started to become very rebellious about my family and background, and it took going to England to re-learn history and arm myself with information.” Jo Ting told the American magazine Filmmaker at the time.
Speaking at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on April 6, she said it would be “years” before she dared to bring her childhood experiences in China to the big screen.
In a video message with other Oscar nominees, Zhao Ting noted that “exploring your past is the scariest thing” and that “it’s going to take a few more years, and I think I need to be more mature and not be afraid to look at myself.”
Coming from China but Westernized
Zhao Ting, whose father is the former general manager of China Capital Steel, Zhao Yuji, and stepmother is the actress Song Dandan, went to boarding school in England at the age of 14, spoke little English, and then went to Mount Holyoke College in the U.S. to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She went to New York University Tisch School of the Arts.)
Born in mainland China, Ting Zhao has made a name for herself as an interpreter of the American West and Native Americans. Her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, tells the story of a rebellious teenager on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota; her second film, The Rider, traces the emotions and lives of ordinary people in the Indian Reservation.
Fang Li, who experienced the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, is particularly empathetic to Zhao Ting’s “rebirth” experience. He was thrown into the mountains of Guizhou to dig railroads and move rocks, losing more time and opportunities than Zhao Ting. When Deng Xiaoping opened the country’s doors in the 1980s, he was able to study in the United States.
“I was confused and frightened, spending eight years from the age of 12 to 20. We’re already survivors, and as bitter and twisted as we are, it’s very comforting to know that you’re still alive, and that’s something that stops me from complaining. I would like to encourage artists that when you get to a relatively free creative environment, the gloom of the past is a valuable asset. The reflection on history is to avoid not repeating it in the future.”
To Tiger Temple’s surprise, Zhao Ting’s dressing, eyes and shoulder bones all show a westernized aesthetic style, “Her aesthetic is all thoroughly Americanized, that is, a person walking on the ground without support, and when I see her, I think of American western movies. When I see her, I think of American western movies. The people in (China) go out and naturally break away from communism and regain their humanity. It’s like being shut in a box, and when you open it, it’s light.”
The China Independent Film Festival (CIFF) announced its indefinite suspension last year, but Zhang Xianmin, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy and one of the founders of CIFF, still insists on recommending ten independent film works every year, looking after the legacy outside of industry and entertainment. He was particularly impressed by Zhao Ting’s Knight, “Her emotional expression is very full, in a wandering way, closer to the way documentaries are shot, including the relationship between the camera and the person, and the relationship between the director and the person. There is a consistency among the filmmaker, the machine and the director, which is very valuable and rare in contemporary society.”
Talking about his hopes for Zhao Ting’s future, Zhang Xianmin hopes she can resist the suppression and erosion of power and capital. “The most change may come from power and money, such as big capital in mainland China or Hollywood hiring her to make films. Such a rather personal author, she will face a second creative phase after three to four works, which has nothing to do with the country, which is part of modernity. I hope that she will have films released in mainland China and that her first phase will continue. I sincerely hope that she will continue to criticize what she thinks she should criticize in the future.”