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This story first appeared in the June 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When the news broke June 13 that News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch had filed for divorce from his wife of 14 years, Wendi Deng, speculation over the cause of the split was quickly replaced by another question: What will Wendi do now?
Though Deng, 44, will hardly need to work to care for herself and daughters Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9 (sources describe her pre-nuptial agreement as “standard” and “generous”), she has made enough of her own connections during her years as a Murdoch to pursue a career in the film industry if she chooses.
In 2011, Deng made her debut as a producer with the English-language Chinese co-production Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, starring Li Bingbing and Hugh Jackman. While the film received mixed reviews and grossed only $1.3 million domestically — despite a release through News Corp.’s Fox Searchlight — it was perceived as a decent first effort and not, as many predicted, a vanity project from the wife of a billionaire media titan.
Less than a year later, sources tell THR that Deng put her Yale MBA to use on another industry endeavor, this time playing a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in DreamWorks Animation’s landmark deal with two state-owned Chinese media giants — China Media Capital and Shanghai Media Group — to form Oriental DreamWorks. Deng, says a source, “was integral” in connecting DWA’s Jeffrey Katzenberg with Li Ruigang, the former head of SMG who now runs CMC. DWA declined comment.
The DreamWorks/CMC alliance is seen as one of the premiere partnerships between Hollywood and China. And CMC has emerged as one of the biggest — and most active — players in China, recently forming another partnership with Time Warner. The Oriental DreamWorks precedent could very well position Deng to become a major player in what has become the biggest media story of the decade: the emergence of China as the second-largest film market in the world.
It doesn’t hurt that she has forged her own relationships with people such as David Geffen and Nicole Kidman. With a little luck and her well-documented determination, Deng may just become a mogul herself.
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