Zhao has been in high-demand for several major studio films after the critically acclaimed The Rider impressed at the Sundance Film Festival. Disney-owned Marvel Studios reportedly booked her quickly before she could board another project at a rival studio.
Created by Jack Kirby, who co-created the Fantastic Four and the X-Men for Marvel Comics with Stan Lee, the Eternals are a genetically-altered race of long-living superbeings created by way of Celestial experiments.
Also birthed out of the experiments were the Eternals' enemies, the genetically unstable Deviants, who stood among the Elder Races of the cosmic Marvel universe — a humanoid race that predates humanity and once ruled the Earth.
The Celestials were introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when they were glimpsed in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. That film's sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, expanded the lore further with the introduction of Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), father of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), who was an immensely powerful Celestial.
In the comics, the Celestials performed similar experiments on the homeworlds of alien races like the Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls. The Kree, already firmly entrenched in the MCU after appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., will serve as a major part of the cosmic-set Captain Marvel, which finds the blue-skinned aliens in an intergalactic conflict with their green-skinned archfoes.
Zhao is the third woman to helm a Marvel Studios project, after Captain Marvel director Anna Boden (who directs with Ryan Fleck) and Cate Shortland, who directs Avengers star Scarlett Johansson in the Black Widow solo movie.
Feige said earlier this summer "a heck of a lot" of the studios' future projects would be steered by female filmmakers.
The move for more inclusive and diverse behind-the-camera talent comes after Warner Bros. found big success with the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman. Marvel got its first black director in Black Panther's Ryan Coogler, who shepherded that film to more than $1.3 billion worldwide.
In front of the cameras, the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue to grow to the point where "more than half" of its featured heroes will be women, Feige told Screen Rant in June.
Marvel Studios has yet to announce a release date for Eternals. Following Spider-Man: Far From Home in July, Marvel has nine release dates claimed through July 2022.