The Hype Man For ‘Asian Hollywood’ Gets His Day In The Sun

Inside the gold-dragon-adorned walls of Chef Chu’s restaurant in the heart of Silicon Valley, a group of prominent Asian venture capitalists and tech executives gathered over Peking duck and garlic noodles.

They came at the behest of then-31-year-old Bing Chen, a former YouTube executive. Near him sat the guest of honor: director Jon Chu, who was just one month from releasing his 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians.”

To Chen, the movie marked not just a turning point for Asians in Hollywood, but also a massive opportunity to shift the cultural narrative around Asians in general. He wanted to be a part of it.

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“Everybody go around the table and say how you’re going to commit to this,” Chu recalled Chen saying.

“He’s literally like your camp counselor,” Chu said, “with all these big people and he doesn’t talk to them like they’re big people.”

By the end of the night, those people — including Opendoor co-founder Eric Wu, then-WeWork Chief Technology Officer Shiva Rajaraman and Andreessen Horowitz partner Maggie Hsu — had committed to buying out as many theaters as possible for the opening weekend of “Crazy Rich Asians,” a tactic inspired by the Black community’s support of Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther” earlier that year. They fanned out on social media, calling on celebrities and influencers to join their #GoldOpen campaign and asking the community to show up.

“The future won’t be begged for, borrowed, or stolen; it will be BOUGHT,” Chen tweeted, hinting at his upcoming plans.

The campaign was extraordinarily successful. #GoldOpen helped give Chu a box office hit — “Crazy Rich Asians” pulled in $26.5 million its first weekend in theaters, making it the biggest Asian film since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” It gave Hollywood fodder for conversations about better representation.

And it gave Chen a new purpose: This budding movement needed a leader, someone who could marshal the right people and resources to ensure Asian endeavors — both inside and outside Hollywood — succeeded.

“There’s this lethal combination of using media to reshape public opinions and beliefs on the one side, and then leveraging economics to help sustain those opportunities on the other side,” Chen said.

That’s the big idea behind his nonprofit, Gold House.

In the six years since its founding, Gold House has become one of the go-to organizations for movie studios and TV networks for all things Asian-related, consulting on or promoting projects such as “Turning Red,” “Joy Ride,” “Beef” and “Past Lives.” It works in advertising and marketing to conduct research on topics such as how Asian women are portrayed in media. It supports aspiring AAPI musicians through collaborations with Spotify. It works with Hollywood’s top talent agencies.

‘One could argue that L.A., with its cultural capital, is the precipice or genesis of all broader societal changes.’

— Bing Chen

“The whole goal is to dismantle stereotypes and project new and affirming images of our diaspora,” Chen said.

If all goes according to plan, he’ll build a new media empire in the process.

Chen, now 37, runs Gold House surprisingly lean, 25 employees split between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, not counting part-timers, advisors and external partners, he said.

And yet the organization operates behind the scenes of a dizzying array of projects. The team’s consulting work for film and TV includes cultural research, script and casting review, facilitating product partnerships and helping with marketing and public relations, generating the organization’s primary source of revenue. Recent releases with the Gold House touch include HBO’s TV adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer.”

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In 2022, the organization launched Gold House Ventures, a $30-million fund to invest in the most promising Asian Pacific-led companies. The fund boasts a portfolio of more than 80 companies with at least one AAPI-identifying founder. Some of its investors include managing directors of Lightspeed and Bain & Company , philanthropic organizations such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and individual investors such as DoorDash Chief Executive Tony Xu, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, rapper Anderson Paak and actor Daniel Dae Kim.

While Gold House Ventures is a for-profit initiative for its investors, management fees and profits are funneled back to the nonprofit. It also helped launch a coalition with other multicultural VC firms such as Harlem Capital to place people of color on company boards. They’re more influential than any C-suite position, Chen said of the dozens of people placed to date.

Even before Gold House, Chen has always been a savvy connector and shrewd operator. In the early days of YouTube, he saw the promise of a democratized platform that could give rise to a new generation of online creators and influencers.

“I built most of the creator programs worldwide from scratch when I got there,” Chen said. This includes leading a team that established YouTube’s creator hub, overhauled and globalized its partner program, created a talent incubation program and dreamed up the Gold Play button awards for the site’s most subscribed channels. He also saw the importance of offline events and helped produce the second annual VidCon, persuading YouTube to invest in the fan convention at a time when many in traditional entertainment did not take YouTube stardom seriously.

While Asian roles in Hollywood were few and far between, YouTube was a place where many Asian creators flourished. Early YouTubers such as the Wong Fu Brothers and beauty guru Michelle Phan found audiences of millions.

Chen developed close relationships with these creators that would prove to be valuable to the creation of Gold House a few years later when it came time to rally the community.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chen was born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn. While his early childhood was marked by a strong country twang and all-American activities such as playing baseball and eating hot dogs, he was aware that his family was one of the only families of color in town. He decided it made him special instead of different, he said.

And like many American kids, he grew up watching Disney movies, which he credits for teaching him cardinal life lessons. (What’s true love? Just watch “Beauty and the Beast.” How do you make the impossible possible? Dumbo will show you.) Those movies stuck with him even as he got older. “I think they do for many people as well — that’s why Disney’s franchise is so powerful,” he said. Media, he realized, could shape public opinion.

“I remember … thinking, what if I could do this?”

After relocating to Shanghai in the late ’90s, the Chen family returned to the United States and landed in Orange County. He majored in creative writing at University of Pennsylvania and worked at Google and YouTube for a few years before moving to Los Angeles in 2014 to pursue his creative interests.

While Gold House Ventures is a for-profit initiative for its investors, management fees and profits are funneled back to the nonprofit.

“One could argue that L.A., with its cultural capital, is the precipice or genesis of all broader societal changes,” Chen said, compared to New York, San Francisco and Washington that may carry heft as the wealth, technology and political capitals of the nation. “We need to see that something is possible and believe that it’s possible before it actually can be possible.”

On a Wednesday in August last year, he’s up and running at a breakfast meeting at 8:30 a.m. with Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina magazine and a former exec at WarnerMedia.

“She’s kind of like a [diversity and inclusion] longtime champion, but she’s really pragmatic and smart,” Chen said. One of Gold House’s priorities is to work with other multicultural groups that want to kick-start similar economic growth within their communities.

In an understated olive green T-shirt with black and yellow snakeskin patterned kicks, Chen looked casually fashionable, but his shoes were intentional. They were designed by Asian American fashion designer Jeff Staple from a collection inspired by Gidra, a student newspaper launched in 1969 that gave voice to the Asian American civil rights movement.

Chen’s next stop is a strategic planning meeting with United Talent Agency.

“Early as always,” one staff member remarks as Chen arrives at the office.

After several phone calls, he meets Janet Yang, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, for lunch. A job candidate interview and a podcast recording later, Chen’s work day finishes at 9 p.m.

Through the course of a day, Chen gives the impression he knows every prominent Asian in the media industry. Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin? Of course. Steve Chung, North American chief executive of CJ ENM, one of the largest entertainment and media companies in South Korea? An old friend. Terra Potts, former executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros.? A kindred spirit.

“He’s just an ultimate connector,” said Yang, who has become a close friend.

‘What would happen if we harnessed all of our power, the power of the world’s majority and the fastest growing domestically, and ensured that we are not only building a better future for ourselves and our children, but for everyone?’

— Bing Chen

Priscilla Chan, associate director of business development at Spotify, said Chen has never faltered in connecting two people who he thinks should meet.

He’s also pragmatic when it comes to diversity, an approach that seems to resonate with the corporate world. As inclusion has become more a part of the national conversation, Chen has harnessed the “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, that companies are feeling to promote Gold House’s agenda to champion Asian American causes.

“There’s a level of diversity that yes, obviously is noble and is about what’s fair and right and equal,” Potts said. “And then there’s just a cold hard reality that we live in a capitalist society and ‘diverse’ audiences, people, consumers spend money … and [he] understands that.”

One of Gold House’s biggest events of the year was its second annual Gold Gala held last May in Los Angeles. Chen dubbed it the “Met Gala of the West.” It was a glamorous, glittering celebration of the 100 most impactful Asians in culture and society. The event spotlighted actor Ke Huy Quan, who won an Academy Award for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and actor-producer Sandra Oh. This year’s edition, held last month in downtown L.A., was equally glitzy.

Chen used the 2023 star-studded occasion to announce the next phase of his ambitions for Gold House. His vision has three stages, he said.

The first goal — Gold Nation — was to “definitively reshape public opinion” through media and support the entrepreneurs who are building the companies that challenge current power structures. Now, the organization has embarked on Gold Bridge, marked by the launch of Gold House in Singapore to strengthen the connection between Asia and North America. The final stage, Gold Life, which Chen said is still a few years out, is fuzzier: He declined to give specifics other than to say it will focus on “leveraging our community, capital and distribution strengths” for essential causes such as healthcare and wellness.

It’s a grand plan reminiscent of the phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, another media empire he admires. In conversation, Chen frequently frames Gold House’s work in terms of “world-building.”

“What would happen if we harnessed all of our power, the power of the world’s majority and the fastest growing domestically, and ensured that we are not only building a better future for ourselves and our children, but for everyone?” he said.

In the meantime, he has still more plans to execute. For AU Holdings, his personal holdings company, he has a creative franchise in the works with stories about multicultural communities and death. Last year, he took a sabbatical to write a novel for the venture, a piece he described as a 600-page spoken-word poem.

“I want to be the Asian Walt Disney Oprah,” he said, only half joking.

“Honestly if I didn’t know me, I would say, ‘Oh, that dude’s full of s—,’” Chen said. “But like, I mean, I’ve lived my life.”

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