Meet Janet Yang: The Chinese-American Film Producer who Achieved Success by Connecting with Her Roots

Ever since she was a little girl, Janet Yang’s life was a dance between her Chinese heritage and her American experience. Her parents came to the United States in 1942 on the heels of the revolution, and raised Janet in Long Island, where they were the only Asians around. When Janet was 15, her parentsafter missing home terriblydecided it was time to return to China, which is when she began to understand and connect with the most fundamental aspects of herself. As a young woman in China she felt a new sense of wholeness, as well as an insatiable curiosity about her roots and culture. In college she majored in Chinese studies, keen on following this path that somehow kept bringing her back home.

Her professional career began in the publishing world in New York, but it didn’t take long for her to feel the pull back to her motherland, and she soon found herself in Beijing, working for a company that allowed her to interface with writers and artists, and where she experienced a life-changing a-ha moment that told her there was a tremendous demand for Chinese culture onscreen. She realized that she herself, as a Chinese-American, felt deprived of these images, having previously thought that Chinese could only occupy a very narrow slice of American society, as scientists or mathematicians. Her worldview had been shaped by a western view of entertainment, and she suddenly became compelled to change that.

From working on Chinese film festivals to joining forces with major motion picture studios, Janet became undeterred in her mission to, as a producer, bring the best of the east and west together. It was this tenacity and cultural instinct that brought films such as the iconic The Joy Luck Club to the world, and poised Janet to work with some of the most influential filmmakers of our time. Her life became a full circle journey that always kept moving between the worlds of China and the U.S., with film as the conduit and Janet’s desire to represent her culture as her fuel.

4 Lessons to Take From Janet Right Now

In Your Pain Is Your Brand

Early in her career, she felt a void when it came to Chinese representation onscreen. She realized that by getting behind the camera, she could have a major hand in changing that.

Declare Yourself

As Janet says, “You have to know yourself.” You have to be able to identify what drives you, what moves you, and let it be known—first to yourself, and then to the rest of the world.

The Immigrant Experience Can Catalyze Success

Even though Janet was born in the U.S., the duality of her cultural experience became the springboard for her curiosity, and eventually her life’s purpose.

Becoming Self Made is a Long Distance Marathon

Success did not come for Janet overnight. But she stayed the course, networked with all the right people, such as the renowned filmmaker Oliver Stone, and was willing to experiment in various aspects of the film industry until she gained a foothold where she could thrive.

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