Who is Cathy Yan? The DC newcomer directing ‘Birds of Prey’
Fans of the DC Comics universe were pleased to know everyone’s favorite female anti-hero Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is getting her own girl gang spinoff movie, Birds of Prey. DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. sought women for behind the camera roles too, which was proven with the announcement that the relatively unknown director Cathy Yan was chosen as director.
Yan is become the third female filmmaker to join the DC club after Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins and Ava DuVernay for the upcoming film The New Gods. Not only does this show mainstream movie franchises are diversifying their slate in behind-the-camera roles, but it also makes Yan the first Asian woman to helm a movie from the DC Comic universe.
Deadline went on to state that Yan “got the job over numerous well established male directors.” So who exactly is the director and what was she doing before the cape? Here’s everything we know about DC’s hottest newcomer.
Before the big screen
Yan might not be the most well known filmmaker (yet), but she comes from an interesting and diverse background with some impressive projects under her belt. After being born in mainland China, Yan was raised in Hong Kong and Washington D.C., before moving to her current residual base in New York.
Yan graduated from Princeton University, magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs. After graduating, Yan enjoyed a successful career in journalism, working as a Wall Street Journal reporter in New York, Hong Kong, and Beijing. According to Style Magazine, she was one of the youngest writers in the paper’s history to land multiple stories on the front page.
According to My Mother
Yan went on to further her study, graduating with an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business and an MFA from the Tisch Graduate Film Program, before diving into the world of filmmaking. The director-writer-producer has several short films in her portfolio including According to My Mother – a pitch for a TV show about a gay, Korean-American struggling actor name David whose life gets even more complicated when his disapproving and devout Christian mother moves in.
Another short written & directed by Yan includes Last Night – about the privileged son of a powerful Chinese politician who endures a long night of humiliation and self-discovery as a public family scandal erupts around him. Down River is also worth a mention, centering on a pig farmer who visits his successful son in Shanghai in an attempt to pay back his debts, only to discover he may have pinned his hopes on the wrong dream. Speaking of pigs . . .
Yan made her directorial debut Dead Pigs in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Also featuring a pig farmer, the film focuses on a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an ambitious expat architect, and a disenchanted rich girl who collide when thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly modernizing Shanghai.
It’s an interesting premise to say the least, and certainly went down well with the critics at Sundance, with Variety calling it “delightful” and “spiky” and The Hollywood Reporter coming out with a similar verdict: “delightfully quirky”.
Yan’s also no stranger to working with auteurs, having collaborated with China’s renowned independent film icon Zhangke Jia (Mountains May Depart), who filled in as executive producer for Dead Pigs. Style Magazine described how the film “was shot with a bilingual crew with money from Alibaba Pictures – a film company under Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post – and Media Asia.” For those who are interested, here’s a (as The Hollywood Reporter put it) delightfully quirky clip from the film.
So why Yan?
While the filmmaker’s enjoyed a sparse yet fascinating directorial career, some people are questioning why Yan made the cut amongst many of Hollywood’s big players. Well, as W Magazine pointed out, playing it safe with a “well-established male director” hasn’t always worked out for the DC franchise. Justice League should’ve been a worldwide success, but it led to a disappointing box office outcome. Suicide Squad was more financially successful, but it didn’t fare so well with the critics (while many said Robbie’s character was the only saving grace).
“Amidst all of this, Wonder Woman, directed by another female director whose previous work was in indie cinema, became the franchise’s only domestic blockbuster hit so far.” So yes, Yan might be a bold bet. But as recent history shows, perhaps she’ll prove to be the jackpot DC is looking for.