'They cut the VPN': Oscars screening party in Shanghai runs into snag

By Emily Chow

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A livestream of the Academy Awards in Shanghai hosted by the alma mater of Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao ran into China's Great Firewall, with the organiser's access to his virtual private network (VPN) service blocked for nearly two hours.

Zhao, who was born in China, was named best director for "Nomadland" on Sunday in a victory that made her the first woman of colour to win the category in the award's 93-year history.

About 30 people had gathered at a small bar on The Bund, a historic district in central Shanghai, to support Zhao as early as 8:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) and watch the awards live on YouTube.

But the screening, hosted by the Alumni Society of New York University, didn't start until 10 a.m., when organiser Kevin Ke got his VPN service to work.

"They cut the VPN," Ke said earlier in heated tones as he struggled to get the screening under way.

Ke told Reuters that his WeChat account was shut down after he wrote a post praising Zhao.

Many Western apps such as YouTube are banned in China, where the local internet is tightly regulated and often censored of content that could undermine the country's ruling Communist Party. A VPN service is needed to bypass the so-called Great Firewall.

Zhao's win came on the back of rising nationalism in China, where the Beijing-born director grew up. In March, Chinese netizens said Zhao had insulted China and questioned her nationality after digging up an interview Zhao gave in 2013 in which she was critical of the country.

Information on "Nomadland", about the travelling van community in modern America, has been scrubbed from Chinese ticketing platforms, film review websites and social media.

The movie's release, slated for April 23 in mainland China, was suspended. Chinese regulators have also directed local media not to broadcast the Oscars.

Video snippets of Zhao's acceptance of the best director award were posted on Chinese social media on Monday.

"I was a bit surprised that Zhao did not use Mandarin to say thank you," said a netizen on China's Twitter-like microblog Weibo. "Bong Joon-ho spoke in his native language, and strives for the right to speak Korean in the international arena."

Bong, a Korean director, won four Oscars last year for "Parasite".

(Reporting by Emily Chow; writing by Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)