Women Creatives Making a Mark – Nina Yang Bongiovi, Jenny Han, So Yong Kim, Lulu Wang and Ali Wong
For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting several women who are making a mark in Hollywood through sheer talent, tons of hard work, lots of patience, and a good dose of spunk.
The disparity in pay scale and lack of professional opportunities and just plain respect has often been mentioned in reference to women creatives in Hollywood. Women need to work doubly harder than their male counterparts in the entertainment business.
Nina Yang Bongiovi
Nina Yang Bongiovi, who emigrated from Taiwan to America at a young age, wanted to be another Connie Chung when she was growing up. “Connie Chung was the one person that my mom identified with, so I actually was allowed to pursue something different,” Bongiovi told Deadline in 2019.
She pursued journalism, hoping to be an on-air reporter. She took up journalism in college and went to work in a newsroom. But her journalism career was short-lived as she focused her career on management and pursued a graduate degree in entertainment management at the University of Southern California. This led to a job in the marketing department of Warner Bros.
It was in 2009, however, that her life changed when she met Forest Whitaker. The two connected and decided to create the production company, Significant Productions.
Bongiovi found her true love and passion in making movies. With Whitaker, she has made acclaimed films like Fruitvale Station (2013) directed by Ryan Coogler, Dope (2015) by Rick Famuyiwa, Songs My Brother Taught Me (2015) by Chloé Zhao, Roxanne Roxanne (2017) by Michael Larnell, Sorry to Bother You (2018) by Boots Riley and Passing (2021) by Rebecca Hall.
Fruitvale Station won the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award as well as the 2013 Cannes Film Festival L’Avenir Award.
Bongiovi and Whitaker won the Producers Guild of America Stanley Kramer Award for their work on the film.
Asked by Northjersey.com in 2021 whether on the surface it may appear that Asian Americans have reached parity when it comes to filmmaking, Bongiovi replied, “That’s far from reality. The fight continues for AAPI projects to be viewed outside the niche lens as well as fighting for budget. It’s a matter of seeing and valuing a project.”
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Bongiovi is married to Matthew Bongiovi, the younger brother of musician Jon Bon Jovi.
Her upcoming films include the untitled Anna May Wong biopic, Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?, Shaky Shivers, Transplant, and Layla.
Korean American author, Jenny Han, known for writing the trilogy To All the Boys which was adapted into a film series and aired on Netflix from 2018 to 2021, was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia.
Now 42 years old, Han wrote her first children’s novel “Shug,” while she was in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was published in 2006.
Han, who earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at The New School, is also known for writing The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy which was adapted into a TV series of the same name beginning in 2022 for Amazon Prime and is still ongoing.
In an interview with Vox.com in 2019, Han was asked about her reaction to the success of the movie. She said, “It was definitely overwhelming and surprising. Going into it, I was just hoping that the fans of the book would feel happy and that it brought the story to life in a way that satisfied them. It was really gratifying to see so many people embrace it, who were being introduced to it for the first time.”
Asked what she thought made the movie take off at that particular moment, Han replied, “The movie has some differences from the book, but I think that what the movie was successful at was what I hoped to do with the book, which was to make people feel really warm and cozy when they watched it. That, to me, is more important, that feeling when you walk away with when you watch a movie, than the literal one-to-one adaptation.”
In production is a spinoff television series XO, Kitty. Han will write, executive produce and be the showrunner for the show.
So Yong Kim
Born in Busan, South Korea, the 55-year-old independent filmmaker has already made four feature films – In Between Days, Treeless Mountain, For Ellen and Lovesong.
A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago where she took up painting, performance and video art, Kim also earned her MFA in the same school.
Married to filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray with whom she has two children, Kim produced Salt, the award-winning Icelandic feature, with her husband with whom she has collaborated on many projects.
Asked in an interview with Filmmaker magazine in 2017 what it was like to collaborate with her husband over the course of many films (he co-wrote Lovesong and In Between Days), Kim replied, “We do a lot together … We live together, and we work from home, so we see a lot of each other. Working together in a way is just another natural extension of our lives. We trust each other’s opinions and judgments even if we have our battles about defending our own ideas.”
Kim was featured in 2006 as one of the “25 Filmmakers to Watch” in Filmmaker Magazine. All four of her films have received numerous awards and citations from the Sundance Film Festival, FIPRESCI International Critics to the Los Angeles Film Critics.
She was commissioned by fashion house Miu Miu to make the short film, Spark and Light, starring Riley Keough, as part of their ongoing “Women’s Tales” series.
In 2016, her first foray into directing television began with Queen Sugar. Since then, she has directed episodes of Transparent, American Crime, The Good Fight, Halt and Catch Fire, Vida, On Becoming a God in Central Florida and Tales from the Loop. In 2021, she directed four episodes of the limited series, Dr. Death.
Born in Beijing to a Chinese diplomat father and a cultural critic and editor mother, Lulu Wang immigrated with her family to Miami at age 6 when her father pursued his Ph.D. at the University of Miami.
The writer-director of Posthumous (2014) and The Farewell (2019), Wang has also directed several short films, documentaries and music videos.
A classically trained pianist, Wang studied music and literature at Boston College. However, her decision to be a filmmaker came after watching Steven Shainberg’s film Secretary (2002) in her senior year. She took two film production courses, made several short films and documentaries and decided to move to Hollywood in 2007 to pursue her dream.
In 2008, when she interned for a producer alongside Bernadette Burgi, the two decided to make a film together and set up their own production company, Flying Box Productions. Her first feature film, Posthumous, starred Brit Marling and Jack Huston and debuted at the Zurich Film Festival.
In 2019, Wang made her second feature film, The Farewell, which starred Awkwafina in her first dramatic role. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Awkwafina won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for her role as Billi in The Farewell in 2020. She made history as the first Asian American woman to win in the category. The Farewell won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature at the 35th Independent Spirit Awards in 2020.
According to the BBC in 2020, Wang said in her speech, “There’s been a lot of conversation this year about how to encourage more women in film. You don’t have to encourage women – there are lots of women making films and in film school. Shadow programs are great but women need the job – just give them the frickin’ job.”
She further emphasized the importance of making the same bets on female filmmakers as are made on male filmmakers.
In a press conference with the HFPA in 2019, Wang explained her challenging journey as a female Asian American filmmaker. She said, “It took me a long time to even have the confidence to tell my own stories. When I was first pitching The Farewell, the thing that people kept asking was, well, is this an American story or is it a Chinese story? And it was very much reflective of am I American or am I Chinese? So I would somewhat hesitantly say American because I am American and therefore it’s an American story, it’s an American perspective on Chinese culture.
“But then I would say yeah, but I want it cast with all Asian cast, Asian-American and a lot of it is going to be in authentic Chinese language, which means subtitles. So then people are immediately like, well, then it’s not an American film, it’s got to be a Chinese film.
“So then I would go to Chinese investors and then they would say, okay great, we can make it as a Chinese film, but then Billi can’t be the main character, because her perspective is too Western, and Chinese audiences are not going to relate to that. So we have got to put a Chinese character in there.
“I can’t write that movie because I don’t know that perspective. And so being in-between, it’s always been really challenging to actually fight for that in-between. And because that is actually the essence of this story, of what it means to be in-between.”
Wang, who is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and some Spanish, is in collaboration with Nicole Kidman on a series called Expats, based on the novel by Janice YK Lee titled “The Expatriates.”
She is also doing a film adaptation of Alexander Weinstein’s collection of science fiction short stories, Children of the New World.
Stand-up comedienne and actress Ali Wong was born to a Chinese American anesthesiologist father and a Vietnamese social worker mother.
A Fulbright scholar and a summa cum laude with a BA in Asian American Studies at UCLA, Wong moved to New York City to pursue a career as a stand-up comedienne.
She was named one of the “10 Comics to Watch” by Variety in 2011. Soon, she was appearing in various TV shows from The Tonight Show to Chelsea Lately.
Wong was recommended by cast member Randall Park to be one of the writers on the TV comedy series Fresh Off the Boat. Later, Park and Wong starred in their own movie, the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe.
Her first stand-up special was Baby Cobra. She did it in 2016 when she was seven months pregnant with her first child.
In 2018, she did her second special, Hard Knock Wife, when she was seven months pregnant with her second child.
Wong wrote a book, “Dear Girls Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets and Advice for Living Your Best Life,” in 2019. She described the tome as a life guide for her daughters to read when they reach adulthood. It won the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Humor.
In 2022, she released her third stand-up special, Don Wong.
She will be seen next in the TV series dramedy Beef with Steven Yeun which recently premiered at the 2023 SXSW (South by Southwest).
Asked in an HFPA press conference in 2019 if she has changed due to her fame or if her friends changed due to her fame, Wong replied, “No one’s ever asked me that before. I would say definitely, I think the people around change first.
“It was so funny because my roommate, I saw her recently and she’s a plastic surgeon. She’s this beautiful, brilliant lady who I was so close to, and we slept in a room together for a whole summer and she had said to me, ‘You know, it’s so great to see you and I feel strange.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t know if I could call you anymore because you’ve gotten so famous.’ And she admitted to feeling strange. I didn’t feel strange. I felt like I was seeing an old friend, but, you know, I felt bad that she sort of felt that she couldn’t call me anymore.
“There are also some people whom I feel like sometimes try to perform around me a little bit. Like they’re trying to be funny or something and I’m like it’s okay, you can be normal, you can just be your authentic self. I feel like I’ve stayed the same. I mean, I’m still, like, a super cheap person. I still go to Costco, I maintain a relationship with a woman that I hate because she has a lemon tree. So, I don’t feel like I’ve changed that much. I still fly Southwest Airlines. You keep it real when you still fly Southwest Airlines.”