The glitz and glamour of another exciting awards season may have settled, but the challenges of diversity and inclusion across the creative industries continue. Forty percent of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color, yet that figure falls to 12.6% among film directors. And a mere five women have been nominated in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ prestigious Best Director category. Kathryn Bigelow remains the sole female to win the coveted statuette for Best Director in the organization’s 92-year history, taking home the historic statuesque for her film The Hurt Locker a decade ago.
In the early 2000s, Villy Wang had an audacious idea: to create a business to end racism while helping kids who, like her, grew up in the projects. Raised by an immigrant single mother in NYC, Wang’s desire to tell her mom’s story forged a passion for using digital media arts to capture stories untold and to create social change.
In 2004 Wang founded BAYCAT (Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology), an innovative model of nonprofit business tackling the lack of diversity in tech and digital media by providing access, education, and employment for Bay Area low-income youth, youth of color, and young women. Wang explains, “BAYCAT is all about changing the stories that get told and the storytellers who get to tell them.”
Under Wang’s leadership, BAYCAT exists to end racial, gender, and economic inequity by creating powerful, authentic media while diversifying the creative industry. “It is critical that we ensure young people embrace their creative spirit, find their authentic voices, and that we build a network that looks like them in the industry,” she continues. “Each young mind is a muscle. We owe it to our craft and our young people to help build that muscle and give them the opportunity to flex it and show it off in a future career in the media and entertainment industries.”
As a Chinese-American woman and native New Yorker, Wang left her former life as a lawyer and commercial investment banker after losing her brother. Disappointed by her employers’ lack of ability to see her talent and what she brought to the table, she vacated a lucrative yet underwhelming existence to find something more inspiring in life in the Bay Area.
Today, whether she is pounding the gavel as San Francisco Film Commission President or crafting the next stories for BAYCAT’s partners, Wang’s secret to success and staying sane in the fast-paced Bay Area comes from finding strength at the intersection of the left and right brain. This means infusing her love of storytelling and the creative arts into finding purpose in life, in jazz, hiking the coast, pairing Nebbiolo with fusion culinary experiments, and traveling and biking the world with her Italian husband.
For Wang and everyone at BAYCAT, San Francisco is the beginning of a movement they hope will spread across the country. Wang explains, “San Francisco is an innovation hub and we hope through donations and meaningful partnerships to expand where the youth need us most, in the Bay Area, and in New York and Los Angeles, the capitals of story creation, media and entertainment.”
To date the organization has educated 4,250+ young women and diverse youth from under-resourced communities and launched 225+ careers, Wang says. “Through BAYCAT’s Academy and Studio, we exist to build and advance a critical ecosystem, to ensure young creative people aren’t socially discouraged, financially restrained, nor prevented from thriving in careers across the creative industries,” she says.
“Middle schoolers start with us in a free Academy,” shares Wang. “We are very hands on as each young person explores their creative passions after school, or as they continue to paid jobs in our Studio, and whether it’s months or years later, BAYCAT graduates and interns walk out our doors confident, resilient, and able to succeed in post-secondary media programs and careers.”
To ensure long-term success, BAYCAT does more than provide classes and jobs; it also offers invaluable mentorship, enduring resources, and paid leadership opportunities every step of the way. BAYCAT intern graduates have been placed with employers ranging from the Golden State Warriors to LinkedIn, the SF Giants, Pixar, HBO, Lucasfilm, ILM, YouTube, AirBnb, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Wired.
“San Francisco in particular is a very expensive place for young professionals to live and thrive, especially for those with a creative spirit, drive, and dreams,” Wang notes. “Our goals in 2020 are to retain this SF-grown talent by securing more partners who will develop this pipeline of young creatives to thrive as storytellers in their workplace, and to engage more corporations, donors, and influencers who are passionate about ending racism and creating social justice to join us in this movement.”
A little Chardonnay, a little Weiwei.