Nina Yang Bongiovi, the producer behind critically acclaimed features such as Fruitvale Station and Sorry to Bother You and the Epix crime drama Godfather of Harlem, is collaborating with Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Gold House chairman Bing Chen to launch AUM Group, a multicultural film fund. Also on board for this venture are MNM Creative’s Michael K. Shen, Silicon Valley vets Jason A. Lin and Maggie Hsu as well as XRM Media’s Michael Y. Chow, who is also the business partner of Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions.
With some of the top names in film and tech leading the charge, the AUM Group was created to develop and acquire creative IP, finance multicultural motion pictures, and invest in the next generation of storytellers. AUM Group led the financing of Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut Passing starring Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Andre Holland, and Alexander Skarsgard. Also written by Hall, the film is based on Nella Larsen’s novel and tells the story of two African-American women, each of whom can “pass” as white but choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1928 Harlem. The film is on-brand for AUM as it explores the complicated intersection of race, class and culture through a suspense-thriller.
“Forest Whitaker and I have been backed by my Asian American partners in leading the financing on every Significant Productions’ project since Fruitvale Station through Sorry to Bother You when no one else in the marketplace was willing to take the initial risk,” said Bongiovi. “Partnering with an all-star team of business leaders in AUM Group is the next natural evolution in continuing to shift culture, amplify important dialogue, and elevate commercial opportunities.”
The launch of AUM comes at a time when there is a demand for inclusive narratives — and considering Latinx, Asian, and African communities represent half of domestic box office audiences today, it is a good move for business as these multicultural diasporas are on their way to becoming the majority in 2040. To add to that Asian and Latinx diasporas are the fastest-growing populations in the country. In the multitude of reports that have been published, including UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report, data suggests that if more than 30% of the cast is diverse, the film performs better at every budget level.
USC Annenberg and Time’s Up released a study titled “Inclusion at Film Festivals” and found that representation has increased at major festivals but the numbers don’t reflect the society we live in. Only 35% of directors come from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (i.e. a ratio of 1.9 white directors to every one director of color) and 25% from women. To add to that, generally speaking, features with women of color as the lead have been the least likely to be released and supported by producers and distributors. In 2019, representation may have been up, but there was a low employment of minorities in every category: 27.6% of film leads, 14.4% of directors, 13.9% of writers, 9% of studio chiefs, among others. AUM group looks to shift all of this with their forthcoming film slate which will be unveiled on a film-by-film basis.
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