Asian American Producers Gain New Backing In Hollywood

Courtesy of Valence Media; Mike Coppola/Getty Images
A-Major Media's Mary Lee (left) and AUM Group's Nina Yang Bongiovi

Film fund AUM Group and banner A-Major Media both will focus on backing multicultural movie and TV projects.

With Asian and Asian American actors and filmmakers gaining prominence in Hollywood — the latest example: Parasite and The Farewell winning top honors at the Oscars and Spirit Awards — their counterparts in the executive suites are stepping up as well.

Nina Yang Bongiovi, who runs Forest Whitaker's Significant Productions, revealed Feb. 24 that she has teamed with a coalition of film and tech veterans including Bing Chen, chairman of the Asian American nonprofit Gold House, and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin to launch the film fund AUM Group. Although founded by Asian Americans, the fund will back an array of multicultural film projects, starting with Rebecca Hall's directorial debut, Passing. Now shooting, the drama is an adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel about the evolving relationship between light-skinned black women (played by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga).

AUM Group's announcement came four days after Mary Lee, most recently head of film at Justin Lin's Perfect Storm Entertainment, unveiled her own banner, A-Major Media, which will focus on producing Asian American film and TV content. The company is backed by a non-exclusive majority investment from The Hollywood Reporter parent Valence Media, meaning that Lee is free to shop her projects to various production partners. Financial terms for A-Major and AUM Group were not disclosed.

Yang Bongiovi will continue to run Significant (Sorry to Bother You, Dope, Fruitvale Station), whose future projects will be supported by AUM Group, as could films from other companies — such as A-Major's. "I'm excited about the fact that Mary could have support from AUM Group," Yang Bongiovi tells THR. "We're here to complement each other on our growth and presence in the business."

A-Major already has a handful of projects on its slate, including an untitled film set up at New Line produced by John Cho and a TV series produced by Gemma Chan and Franklin Leonard. The company also is developing an adaptation of the 2015 YA novel I Believe in a Thing Called Love, about a teenage girl using K-drama techniques to woo her crush; an autobiographical film from Fresh Off the Boat co-executive producer Kourtney Kang about her high school experiences; and We Stan, a comedy about K-pop fans and friends from Atypical scribe Lauren Moon.

Yang Bongiovi and Lee cited 2018's Crazy Rich Asians as a watershed moment that sparked faith to start their ventures. There have been Asian American studio toppers (including current DC Films chief Walter Hamada) and artists with their own shingles (Daniel Dae Kim's 3AD), but few producer-driven companies like Dan Lin's Rideback. That's changing, Lee says: "[The presence of Asian Americans] has been good on the talent side, but it's very important to be on the executive side as well. There have to be people in positions of power to champion these stories." 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.