‘Godfather of Harlem’ Producer Nina Yang Bongiovi Has No Time for Naysayers

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Oct 11, 2019

Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker have produced critically acclaimed films through their company Significant Productions to tell stories that are culturally significant, such as “Fruitvale Station,” “Dope,” “Songs My Brother Taught Me,” “Roxanne Roxanne” and “Sorry To Bother You.” In an article published yesterday (October 10) that profiles Yang Bongiovi, she told Deadline that “having the Asian American investors involved in these last five films has proven to me that it’s good business when you invest in a diverse cast.”

Most recently, Yang Bongiovi and Whitaker have turned to television with Epix’s “Godfather of Harlem,” which premiered on September 29. Starring Whitaker as Bumpy Johnson, the production duo are bringing to light the life story of 1960s Black crime boss. And the behind-the-scenes players are as diverse as the stories being told on-screen, with Academy Award-winning director Guillermo Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) as the show’s DP and Swizz Beatz handling the score.

“Being producers of color, we’re very conscious of representation,” Yang Bongiovi said. “We’re mindful of how each character is portrayed; we want to portray each character with complexity and depth. Instead of a trope that we just talk about.” Not to mention the need to correctly frame one of the most famous Black neighborhoods in the nation. “For so many [Black people, they] still face issues of police brutality, profiling and all of that, and with Harlem becoming completely gentrified today, this is all relevant,” Yang Bongiovi said.

Even though she is a woman of color making films about communities of color, Yang Bongiovi admitted that some in the Asian-American community have criticized her for the focus. “I remember at another panel someone goes, ‘Well it’s kind of hard to support what you do because you only make Black films.’” Yang Bongiovi recalled. “Then I said, ‘Is it hard for you to support an Asian American doing well in Hollywood?'” Moving on from the criticism, the producer will next introduce the bilingual, Catalina Aguilar Mastretta-directed comedy “Este Día.”