In New York Magazine’s February 15-28, 2021 issue cover story, New York and Vulture film critic Alison Willmore profiles Chloé Zhao, the creator of quiet indie dramas who has suddenly become the most-sought-after director in Hollywood, and an Oscar frontrunner. “You don’t have to be a master of anything, just a jack-of-all-trades, to be a director,” Zhao tells Willmore, stating she wanted to tell stories for a living but wasn’t great at painting, photography, music, or any of her other interests. “I hire people who are really good at their craft, then put them together.” As Zhao began making films, she discovered she preferred to build a film around someone who was already in a place she wanted. “I realized I’m not the kind of writer-director that can create this character on my own in a dark room,” she tells Willmore.
For her part, Willmore says she first wanted to profile Zhao after watching her 2017 film The Rider, which had her glued to her seat even after the credits rolled. “I felt like I was still living inside of it, days later,” Willmore says. “I wanted to know everything about Zhao and her process, and about how someone could make art that felt so astoundingly present in its slice of South Dakota, especially while having grown up over six thousand miles away.” Zhao is clearly a major talent, so it hasn’t been surprising to Willmore to watch her career accelerate the way it has, to the point where she’s juggling the current Oscar favorite, Nomadland, while finishing up a Marvel movie, Eternals. “Talking to Zhao became a way into so many of the issues filmmakers contend with today — with regard to authenticity, creative control, and, most interestingly for me, the power dynamics between artist and subject,” says Willmore. “The past year has been a tumultuous one, but I also fully believe it belongs to Zhao.”