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Chloé Zhao, Best Director, Oscars 2021

Oscars 2021: Chloé Zhao makes history as first woman of color to win Best Director

Chloé Zhao wins Best Director for Nomadland at the 2021 Oscars and makes history as the first woman of color to win in the category.

Chloé Zhao, Best Director, Oscars 2021

Chloé Zhao accepts award for Best Director at the 2021 Oscars. (Image Source)

The Oscars in 2021 looked a bit different 

Last night at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony the best films of the past year were honored. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the event was held at various locations with Union Station being used as the show’s main location. At each location, attendees rotated in and out of the ceremony to adhere to pandemic social distancing guidelines and were only permitted to be maskless while on camera. 

The 2021 Oscars ceremony was notably different from years past with little-to-no skits and banter between presenters and all live performances pre-recorded. But perhaps a more subdued year is fitting to reflect the past year. 

Another big, and positive change to this year’s awards ceremony was the increase in diversity and representation among award nominees. For years the Academy has been criticized for their lack of diversity and inclusion, but this year we finally saw some historic firsts. 

Chloé Zhao’s historic win

Chinese filmmaker, Chloé Zhao became the first ever woman of color to win Best Director, and only the second woman to win in the category in nearly 100 years of the award’s history. Zhao won with her third feature film, Nomadland. The film stars Frances McDormand as a woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

Nomadland premiered on September 11, 2020 at the Venice Film Festival where it won the festival’s highest award, the Golden Lion. Since its release, the film has collected numerous awards and high praises. It was the third highest-rated film of 2020 by Metacritic and was named one of the top 10 films of 2020 by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute.

In her acceptance speech, Zhao spoke on what inspires her to keep going daily. She recounted how, “When I was growing up in China, my dad and I would play this game. We would memorize classic poems and texts and try to finish each other’s sentences.” 

Zhao then recited a line of poetry in Chinese. “People at birth are inherently good,” she translated. “Those six letters had such a huge impact on me when I was a kid. I still truly believe them today. Even though it seems like that the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere in the world.”

She went on to dedicate her award to “anyone who has the faith and courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold on in the goodness in each other no matter how difficult it is to do that. You inspire me to keep going.”

Nigerian finance leader Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead WTO 

In a statement late Friday, the Biden Administration expressed its strong support for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,  leading candidate for leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The administration has lauded her for he experience at the World Bank and leading Nigeria’s finance ministry, and pledged to work with her on needed reforms.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead WTO upon confirmation

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigerian finance leader Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (International Monetary Fund, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was front runner for the role until former President Donald Trump had blocked her candidacy after a WTO selection panel recommended her as chief in October. He instead wanted another woman for the role, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

However, Ms. Yoo has now withdrawn her candidacy, a decision made after consulting with allies including the United States.

“In order to promote the functions of WTO and in consideration of various factors, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy,” Yoo said in a statement. 

With Ms. Yoo withdrawing her candidacy, the WTO members can now begin to conclude the consensus-based process and confirm Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the next WTO director-general.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said she is looking forward to the conclusion of the race and moving forward with needed reforms.

“There is vital work ahead to do together,” the former World Bank executive said in a statement.

Additionally, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it is ready to begin working with Okonjo-Iweala, noting that she is “widely respected for her effective leadership and … proven experience managing a large international organization with a diverse membership.”

In a statement the Biden Administration also said they look forward to working with a new WTO Director General “to find paths forward to achieve necessary substantive and procedural reform of the WTO.”

The administration also pledged a commitment to “positive, constructive and active engagement” on reforms.

Reforms moving forward 

The next leader of the World Trade Organization will have a lot to contend with moving forward. Observers say the leaderless WTO is currently facing the deepest crisis ever in its 25-year history. 

World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

DG selection process 2020- Press conference – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria (World Trade Organization, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The WTO has gone without a director-general since early August when Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo quit. His new replacement will have to contend with a COVID-induced recession, U.S.- China tensions, and rising protectionism.

The International Chamber of Commerce’s John Denton has urged WTO members to act quickly in selecting a new director-general. 

“With geopolitical tensions high, the global economy in recession and ‘vaccine nationalism’ threatening an equitable recovery, there is now no reason for further delay in filling this critical role with the well-qualified candidate at the ready,” he said.

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Leading candidate, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has previously stressed the need for the WTO to play a role in helping poorer countries with COVID-19 drugs and vaccines — an issue on which members have failed to agree in ongoing negotiations. Future WTO reform will have to address these pressing global issues among others moving forward.