China’s box office is expected to surpass the United States’ by 2020 and already has more movie screens and sells more tickets than any other country in the world. At the same time, Hollywood is increasingly embracing East Asian actors and storylines.
Chinese-American Hollywood producer Janet Yang has been both instrumental in bringing Chinese films to American audiences, as well as pushing for more Asian-American opportunities in movies.
Yang was the executive producer of Joy Luck Club, the first Hollywood film featuring an all-Asian cast.
“Joy Luck Club was such an outlier it shouldn’t have done well,” Yang said.
“It’s an all-Asian cast. It had multiple story lines. All these flashbacks. It broke so many rules and it shouldn’t have done well,” she said. “It did because I guess it just spoke to people.”
Yang is the founder of Gold House, a collective of Asian pioneers across a wide range of industries advocating for greater Asian representation.
The organization was born out of frustration.
“We’ve built companies. We’ve had successful IPOs. We have great strategists,” Yang said of the founding group’s sentiments. “But our children are still growing up not seeing themselves on-screen.”
Ultimately, Yang said her work is about building cultural bridges.
“The perception the Chinese have of Americans and vice versa, it seems sometimes there’s an impossible gap to bridge. But now, I feel that gap is being bridged,” she said. “That’s what’s exciting to me, is creating a little bit of that change in somebody’s mind about their perception of something, underrepresented people.”
Finding Kukan is a documentary that tells the story of Li Ling-Ai, a female film producer from Hawai‘i who was uncredited for her work on an Oscar-winning documentary about World War II in China called Kukan.
A full copy of Kukan has long been missing, while Ling-Ai’s story has gone untold for decades. Both mysteries are unraveled over a seven-year journey on Finding Kukan.