Is Empire in Nomadland a real town and what happened there? Let’s get the true story behind the 2021 Disney Plus movie explained.

The 93rd Academy Awards celebrated a range of exciting movies from the past year, with Nomadland earning some of the evening’s most prestigious accolades.

The 2021 drama was nominated for six Oscars and landed three; Best Picture, Best Director (Chloé Zhao), and Best Actress (Frances McDormand).

Beyond that, it also won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, as well as top prizes at the Toronto International Film Festival, Golden Globe Awards and the British Academy Film Awards.

UK audiences were invited to stream it on Disney Plus on Friday, April 30th, exploring its tale of Fern (Frances), a nomad travelling the United States in her van after the passing of her husband.

We open on some important text to contextualise the story, but is Empire in Nomadland a real tow? What happened there?

Searchlight Pictures

Nomadland: Is Empire a real town?

  • Yes, Empire was a real town in Washoe County, Nevada. It was a company town for United States Gypsum Corporation, but both the mine and town were closed by the company in 2011.

Nomadland opens with the following text: “On January 31, 2011, due to reduced demand for sheetrock, US Gypsum shut down its plant in Empire, Nevada, after 88 years. By July, the Empire zip code, 89405, was discontinued.”

These are facts that provide insight into Fern’s past and the history of the real life people who lost their houses and community.

As highlighted by ScreenRant, the real-life town covering 5.1 square miles had a population of 217 – according to the 2010 census – and the rare element Gypsum made it an important place post-World War II, as the US Gypsum plant was one of just a few nationwide to survive the decline of mining. However, the recession of the late 2000s led to the closure of both the plant and the town.

Nomadland: True story explained

Although Nomadland isn’t strictly based on a true story, the fictional Fern’s journey can be considered a cinematic interpretation of what may have happened to one of the residents following the closure.

Although there was the benefit of some tourism thanks to Black Rock Desert and Burning Man Festival nearby, it was the Gypsum plant that kept it going. Back in 2016, it was determined that only seven citizens remained following the shutdown.

Just one convenience store and a handful of trailers prevented it from becoming a total ghosttown.

However, the Empire Mining Co. bought the town back in 2016, but they only partially reopened it and employed some of the remaining residents.

Nomadland was filmed in Empire, Nevada

KTVN acknowledges that the Nomadland crew actually flocked to Empire and shot some of the film there.

A number of the residents make it into the production too, and some have weighed in their thoughts and experiences. One resident – Brandy Wilber – has said:

“We just kind of live our slow day-to-day life and somebody popped up and wanted to do a movie and two years later, here we are with award shows and everything else. We didn’t see that coming.”

Similarly, Empire’s Makenzie Etcheverry said: “We thought it was going to be a small, kind of you know, local movie and it’s turned into something really big.”

Nomadland is now available to stream on Disney+.

In other news, when is Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney Plus?