Wendi Deng Murdoch is co-CEO of Big Feet Productions, a film production company she launched in 2008. Ms. Murdoch is currently producing the English-language Chinese feature film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, based on the 2005 best-selling novel of the same name.
Prior to forming her production company, Ms. Murdoch provided strategic counsel to MySpace China, the popular social networking site. Earlier, Ms. Murdoch was a Vice President at News Corporation’s Asian satellite television operation, STAR.
A native of China, Ms. Murdoch is fluent in Mandarin and English. She holds a MBA from Yale University’s School of Management and a BA degree in Economics from California State University at Northridge in Los Angeles.
She currently serves on the boards of the Yale School of Management; the Fund for Public Schools in New York City; Art.sy, a digital start-up company focusing on the fine art market; AdChina and Myspace China.
Ms. Murdoch is married to Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation. The couple has two children.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in 19th century China when girls had their feet bound, then spent the rest of their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see. Illiterate and isolated, they were not expected to think, be creative, or have emotions. But in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu – “women’s writing” – the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world. Some girls were paired as “old-sames” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a timeless portrait of female friendship. In 19th-century China, seven year old girls Snow Flower and Lily are matched as laotong – or “old sames” – bound together for eternity. Isolated by their families, they furtively communicate by taking turns writing in a secret language, nu shu, between the folds of a white silk fan.
In a parallel story in present day Shanghai, the laotong’s descendants, Nina and Sophia, struggle to maintain the intimacy of their own childhood friendship in the face of demanding careers, complicated love lives, and a relentlessly evolving Shanghai. Drawing on the lessons of the past, the two modern women must understand the story of their ancestral connection, hidden from them in the folds of the antique white silk fan, or risk losing one another forever.
What unfolds are two stories, generations apart, but everlasting in their universal notion of love, hope and friendship.
Asiance sat down with Wendi and her Big Feet Productions business partner, Florence Sloan at the Four Season Hotel in Manhattan to discuss their latest endeavor. I love meeting with dynamic, hard-working and creative women.
ASIANCE: What made you want to tell this story about these two women and why now?
Wendi: I think since this partnership with Florence and this movie, we’ve become even closer. I grew up in China, so when I read the book, I could relate to the character. It made me cry how the girl had no position in the family. The son was more important. It is how the old China was. We wanted to tell the story now because everyone wants to know more about China. It’s not just any movie about China.
ASIANCE: Do you think this will appeal to mainstream movie audiences or Asian American audiences?
Wendi: The actress is very big in the West and Europe. We’re going to release in the US and China together. We’re the first movie to ever do that. It will be the same day. We’ll release in Australia in the summer, wide release.
I wanted people to learn more about China and the 19th century culture. I wanted to show how far women have come in China.
I wanted people to learn more about China and the 19th century culture. We address the foot binding issue and how women suffered. I wanted to show how far women have come in China. They’ve eliminated all foot binding and arranged marriage. Also, a girl going to school is mandatory. Today, in other parts of the world it seems like you can’t stop it. In China, somehow just one generation, it was eliminated. So much progress has been made. They go to school equally. More females graduate college than males. They have equal opportunities and contribute to society so much. I want to get people to understand China more, modern society. Integrate China more with the United States. Get more people to go to China to visit.
ASIANCE: So foot binding was eliminated within one generation?
Wendi: Mao contributed to that the most. He addressed that. He basically said foot binding is illegal. Arranged marriage illegal, no compromise. It’s the law. And, girls must go to school. As a result of that, China progressed.
ASIANCE: China has come a long way since the 19th century. Is there a big difference in social/economic statuses among women in urban areas vs. suburban vs. rural?
Wendi: Yes when we shot in rural China just 3 hours away from the city, it is so much different. The women in Shanghai are trendy, fashionable and very stylish. In the China population, 47% live in the countryside. The cities are the other half. In the next 10-20 years, there will be 2% migration every year. That’s about 300 million people from rural to modern. It’s better for women, as it creates more job opportunities. Plus, in rural China there is not as good healthcare facilities. My grandmother died in childbirth many years ago. My mother was in a small town where women didn’t get educated. She was lucky that she got an education. In the city, there are so many great hospitals, lots of opportunities, similar to American culture.
The entire world is fascinated with American films. Everywhere, China too. They love American films.
ASIANCE: What do you think of Asia’s impact on American culture?
Wendi: Today, Americans are much more open to Asians. It’s becoming international. At my children’s school, many American parents want to know what’s happening in not only China but Asia. They’re learning Mandarin.
Follow your passion. If they are so passionate about it, when they have a problem, they’ll solve it. The other thing, women love to help each other in film. Get experience and help each other and support each other.
ASIANCE: What made you want to cast Li Bing Bing and Gianna?
Wendi: She’s a really famous international actress. She’s the Oscar equivalent in Chinese. She’s a serious hard working actress and can really go with it.
Gianna is from Korea. She’s a big star in Korea and China. Our director met her. She loved the book.
ASIANCE: Give us 3 words to describe Li Bing Bing.
Wendi: Li Bing Bing: Beautiful, intelligent, extremely hard working
ASIANCE: I spoke with Li Bing Bing. She said both of you were on set all the time. She said you were a good mother. When you discipline your daughters, you tell them why they can’t do something or have something.
Wendy: Oh good. I grew up in China very poor. My parents always told me, no matter what happens, education is most important. Something that helps you overcome poverty. To my children, I emphasize how education is so important. Here we live in America, not like China, we’re strict, but we love them. We tell them to do their best. You should always give them a reason so they understand.
Also, I wanted to bring them to the set. I wanted them to see what it’s like doing something that you love, plus the hard work. It’s always good to have that value.
For me to do this movie, because I was in television before, I loved the book. I was passionate about the book. Then, Florence read it and she loved it. I feel there is so much interest in China but they don’t have the film. This can fill that niche. Low budget, big stars and an international team, that was interesting. That is why we choose Wayne Wang. Avatar was the most profitable film.
ASIANCE: How about Memoirs of a Geisha.
Wendi: I loved the book. The movie was not as good as the book. It was such a big budget film. So much expectation. I wish more and more people would make this type of Asian film.
I see books turned into films by American writers but not Chinese writers.
ASIANCE: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Wendi: Ang Lee
ASIANCE: What advice would you give to women who want to produce films? Should they achieve a certain type of experience?
Wendi: Follow your passion. If they are so passionate about it, when they have a problem, they’ll solve it. The other thing, women love to help each other in film. Get experience and help each other and support each other.
ASIANCE: Would you ever like to direct?
Wendi: No, not now. One thing at a time, producing first. It’s our first movie, so we’re learning a lot.
ASIANCE: Are you looking at more films to produce?
Wendi: I told Florence, we’re so lucky because this film has opened up so many other projects. So we’re carefully picking them. We’ll announce something soon.
ASIANCE: Another Asian theme?
ASIANCE: Will you describe Florence?
Wendi: Florence is amazing because she is so intelligent and a great writer. Also, she’s very detailed, especially with the legal part of it. We make a good team. It’s always fun to work together on a woman’s project.
Stay tuned for an exclusive contest where an Asiance member (and her friend) will win a meet and greet with Ms. Florence Sloan and Ms. Wendi Murdoch. Stay tuned for the announcement!