Multicultural Film Fund Launches With Nina Yang Bongiovi, Gold House Leaders

Nina Yang Bongiovi - Getty - H 2020
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AUM Group, founded by Asian American film and tech execs, has begun by leading the financing for ‘Passing,’ starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson.

Producer Nina Yang Bongiovi (Sorry to Bother You, Fruitvale Station) has teamed with Gold House chairman Bing Chen and several fellow Asian American film and tech leaders to launch AUM Group, a new fund dedicated to financing multicultural movies.

The founders will retain their “day jobs” — to wit, Yang Bongiovi will continue to serve as Forest Whitaker’s producing partner on their Significant Productions, whose future projects AUM Group will support. Significant’s previous films (which also include Dope, Roxanne Roxanne and Chloe Zhao’s first feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me) have been backed by XRM Media’s Michael Y. Chow and MNM Creative’s Michael K. Shen, who also are part of AUM Group’s launch team, as are Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and serial entrepreneur Maggie Hsu (both also co-founders of the Asian American nonprofit collective Gold House) as well as venture capitalist Jason A. Lin.

AUM Group will develop and acquire creative IP and finance films about multicultural stories. Although the fund is novel in that its principals are all Asian Americans, Chen tells The Hollywood Reporter that it will invest in stories about an array of underrepresented communities; for example, it has led the financing of Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, Passing, based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about the evolving relationship between two light-skinned black women, one of whom decides to pass for white. The drama stars Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Andre Holland and Alexander Skarsgard. More projects are in the works and will be unveiled soon, according to AUM Group.

“If artists of color can come together as one community, we can really make some changes in our industry,” says Yang Bongiovi. “And that’s really the goal of the multicultural fund. When we are able to support African American artists as well as Asian American artists, indigenous artists, Latinx artists, that’s going to give us strength in shifting culture.”

The genesis of AUM Group began about a year and a half ago, around the time that Crazy Rich Asians proved that a movie featuring an underrepresented cast could be a box office hit. (Several of the principals were involved in Gold House’s #GoldOpen movement to promote the film via theater buyouts and other community campaigns.) Since then, Lin and the other experienced investors in AUM Group have meticulously calculated internal rates of return of successful multicultural films (such as Significant’s slate to date) and are confident that the films they back will succeed in the market.

“We don’t have to be at the mercy of a green light committee,” Yang Bongiovi adds. “We’ll go, and you’re going to acquire it, and at a premium. No more lowballing us or telling us our projects are worth less, because we have funding that will not only fund development, but also production.... For the last 10 years, we’ve been taking the lion’s share of every project that we believe in, because every other investor is scared to death. So we’ll take the lion’s share [at AUM Group] and say, ‘Come along with us. See how we produce, launch careers and treat our artists.’ And you can actually be profitable while shifting the culture in Hollywood.”