Anita Gou on Why Cinema Is at the "Starting Point" of Increased Asian Representation

THR_AnitaGouCannes - THR - H 2019
Dilip Bhoye

The Taiwanese producer also discusses making her first trip to Cannes, bridging the East-West gap and why 'Crazy Rich Asians' failed to resonate in China.

Taiwanese producer Anita Gou has a background and skill set built for versatility in today’s increasingly global film business. Born into a family of tech tycoons — her uncle is Taiwan’s richest individual, Foxconn founder Terry Gou — Gou began her career working as a visual effects coordinator on films like Transformers: Age of Extinction at Method Studios in Los Angeles. In 2014, she returned to Taipei when her family purchased Taiwan’s most historic film studio, Central Motion Picture Corporation, the original production home of Ang Lee. In 2016, she bounced back to Los Angeles to launch indie shingle Foxtail Entertainment in partnership with producer Matthew Mallek, whom she met while supervising Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which shot at her family’s Taiwan studio. The pair put out a number of projects in short succession, including Marti Noxon’s anorexia drama To the Bone, a Sundance premiere that sold to Netflix. Gou has since gone solo, rebranding her banner as Kindred Spirit. The new incarnation of the company produced two of the most buzzed-about titles at Sundance this year: Lulu Wang’s China co-produced family drama The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, which was acquired by A24; and the autobiographical Shia LaBeouf film Honey Boy, which was picked up by Amazon Studios.

The 28-year-old producer is making her first trip to Cannes this year, with a hush-hush new project to unveil, and international rights to past titles to sell. THR sat down with Gou in Beijing’s tony Sanlitun district to discuss her approach to East-West project development.

Your production banner is just a few years old, but you’ve put out a very diverse collection of work already. How would you describe your approach to picking projects?

Generally, the throughline is having a different point of view. In all projects, I try to look for that element that can hit culture in some way and be a talking point. I don’t care if you like the film at the end of the day, but I want you to be able to talk about it — and to want to talk about it. My East-West background is very much something that I want to lean into — being able to do things that are influenced by East Asian culture and history in whatever way — but inherently, as a businesswoman, it’s also important to me that the film is globally distributable and universally relatable, regardless of the project’s scale.

Do you finance all of your own projects?

Yeah, from private sources. I really like to co-finance, with one other party who sees what I see, as sort of insurance in a way. And I like to do a number of projects at the same time, but since we’re a small outfit, I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, to be able to have a bigger slate than I would otherwise.

As a producer with ambitions of bridging East and West, what did you make of the way Crazy Rich Asians failed to resonate in China? (The film earned just $1.7 million there.)

I was a big fan of the project and thought it was a beautifully made movie. I think there are a lot of factors behind why it had a softer landing than people like me hoped. The Chinese market is very trend driven, and the audience’s tastes shift on an almost quarterly basis. Lately, sci-fi has been having a moment, or tastes are leaning toward more grounded, relatable, human interest stories. Crazy Rich Asians was a romantic, fantasy fairy tale. Aspirational rom-coms like that were hot in China about five years ago — so it might just have been a matter of timing as much as anything.

How do such observations inform your ambitions for Kindred Spirit?

My goal is to make sure that this new trend of Asian representation is here to stay, and to harness the fact that we’re really just at the starting point. Crazy Rich Asians was one movie, set in one very specific part of the world — Singapore — with one way of presenting a view of that world. But there’s so much more we’re going to be able to do.

What will you have going on in Cannes?

We’ll very likely be launching a new title. For The Farewell and Honey Boy, we’ve sold North America, but there will be some international sales activity. Then just, you know, meeting more companies and filmmakers who don’t come to some of the other festivals that I’ve been going to. I also hope to just enjoy France and chill out a little — I realize that is probably naive, but I will try.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 15 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.