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Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, About Vanlife, with Frances McDormand Crushes at Oscars

It's about a vandwelling woman who leaves her hometown after her husband dies and the sole industry closes down, to be "houseless" and travel around the United States

Nomadland is about 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. It just cleaned up at the Oscars with a win of best picture, and more. In 2018, Free Solo won an Academy Award for best documentary.

Director Chloé Zhao took home the Academy Award for best director for Nomadland, which stars Frances McDormand, who won best performance by an actress in a leading role for her part in the film. Zhao wrote, edited and produced Nomadland, which received six nominations in total. Zhao’s victory makes her the first Asian woman and first woman of colour to receive the award.

In her acceptance speech, she said, “I have been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard. And I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid. When I was growing up in China, my dad and I used to play this game. We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences.” She said she’s always been inspired by the phrase “人之初,性本善,” which comes from the foundational Chinese text “The Three Character Classic” and translates to: “People, at birth, are inherently good.”

She continued, “Those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid. And I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it may seem like the opposite is true. But I have always found goodness in the people I met — everywhere I went in the world.” She concluded her speech by saluting “anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that. This is for you, you inspire me to keep going.”

“We should add a karaoke bar,” said McDormand in her speech, delivered after coming off stage to help accept Nomadland’s best picture win. “I have no words. My voice is in my sword. We know the sword is our work and I like work. Thank you for knowing that, and thanks for this.” This is McDormand’s third best actress Oscar: she took the prize for Fargo in 1997 and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in 2018.

Chris Moody, who wrote an excellent review here, said, “As vanlife has grown in popularity throughout the country, those who live in vehicles out of necessity, particularly older people, can be overlooked and forgotten. Nomadland, a new feature film about hard-up baby boomers forced to take to the open road after the 2008 financial crash, grants them an overdue moment of recognition.”

Watch the trailer to Nomadland below; it’s now streaming on Netflix.

Nomadland Trailer