Chloé Zhao became the first director of Asian descent and only the second women ever to win the Golden Globe for Best Director, when she took the prize Sunday. Her night would end with an exclamation point as her film Nomadland went on to take the Best Motion Picture – Drama prize.

Zhao had been a favorite in the Director category that included three women for the first time – Zhao, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami — along with David Fincher for Mank and Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7. The only other woman to win the category was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1983.

During her virtual acceptance speech she thanked her partner Josh and her family for “keeping her sane all these years,” and after reading a quote from one of the real-life “nomads” in the film about compassion, she added, “This is why I fell in love with making movies and telling stories, cause it gives us a chance to laugh and cry together, and it gives us a chance to learn from each other, and to have compassion for each other.”

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Searchlight Pictures’ Nomadland came into the night with four nominations including Zhao for her Screenplay and Frances McDormand as Best Actress – Drama. The story follows Fern (McDormand), who packs her van after losing almost everything during and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. It was adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book about “workampers,” the Great Recession-driven low-cost labor pool of mostly transient older Americans who hit the road in RVs, vans and travel trailers as migrant workers.

The third in Zhao’s trilogy of a sort on the state of the American West after 2015’s Songs My Brother Taught Me and 2017’s The Rider, Nomadland has been among the most honored so far this movie-awards season. It won the Golden Lion at Venice and the Audience Award at Toronto – two Oscar-bellwether victories. It since has picked up Best Picture, Actress and Screenplay wins from various key critics groups, was named to the Top 10 films list at AFI and scored nominations in all three categories at the Critics Choice Awards.

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