Lion Forge Animation Inks Multipicture Partnership With China's Starlight Media

David Steward II - Publicity - H 2020
Lion Forge Animation

Both of the young companies have found early success — Lion Forge thanks to its Oscar-winning short film 'Hair Love,' and Starlight via its equity investment in 'Crazy Rich Asians' — and now they are partnering to share resources and cross-border expertise.

China's Starlight Media and David Steward II’s growing indie studio Lion Forge Animation have entered into a joint venture partnership that will involved the two companies co-financing and co-producing a slate of animated shorts and feature films. The agreement is one of the exceedingly few Hollywood-China deals to emerge since President Trump kicked off the U.S.-China trade war in mid-2018 — not to mention amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

The first two projects the new partners will work on together include a feature-length reimagining of the great Chinese classic novel Journey to the West — often adapted with a focus on the character of the Monkey King — and an original animated short inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the disease's impact on humans and other animal species. The partners said the COVID-19 project — in light of its urgent relevance — is being fast-tracked for a production start in April.

As the joint venture progresses, the companies say they will work to develop and deploy Lion Forge Animation’s substantial existing IP pool in the China market, as well as produce classic Chinese stories and original concepts for a worldwide animation audience.

Lion Forge Animation is the production company offshoot of Lion Forge Comics, which merged with fellow indie comics books publisher One Press last year. Both entities are held by St. Louis-based parent company Polarity, owned by David Steward II. The production outfit, one of the few African American-owned animation studios, aims to to widen the diversity of creative voices available in the animated storytelling space.

Lion Forge Animation struck gold with its debut project, Hair Love, earlier this year. The short film, directed by Matthew A. Cherry, tells the story of an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. The film both went viral and won the 2020 Oscar for best animated short.

Starlight Media, headed by CEO Peter Luo, is the film arm of Starlight Culture Entertainment Group, a China-backed firm that's publicly listed in Hong Kong and has offices in Beverly Hills. The company's business model to date has been built around inking first-look deals with in-demand Hollywood directors, and then taking significant equity stakes in the titles those big names develop. It has signed exclusive first-look deals with James Wan (Aquaman), Roland Emmerich (Independence Day: Resurgence) and Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), among others. The company achieved an early win with a sizable stake in Chu's 2018 hit, Crazy Rich Asians. Late last year, Starlight took a stake in the new production outfit founded by Crazy Rich Asians' star, Henry Golding.

For each project that emerges from the new animation joint venture, Starlight will maintain distribution, licensing and merchandising rights in the Greater China region, while Lion Forge Animation will maintain distribution and licensing rights in the rest of the world.

“We operate on the premise of championing diversity, so crossing boarders to collaborate with partners like Starlight Media is a move we’re very happy to make in the spirit of achieving a desired content slate that reflects diverse voices and stories," said Steward II in a statement. "Lion Forge Animation is committed to establishing a strong brand identity that equates to the best animated projects in the world, and this strategic partnership allows for greater economies of scale."

Added Luo on behalf of Starlight: "The China film industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in the world and we are excited to work with David and the Lion Forge Animation team, who not only have strong passion for the Chinese market, but also respect and understand the differences and uniqueness of the local audience and ecosystem in China. Our partnership will leverage the resources and strengths of both companies to deliver the highest caliber content to a global audience."