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Cathy Yan
Cathy Yan, January 2020.jpg
Yan in 2020
Born 1986 (age 37–38)
Nationality American
Alma mater
Occupation Filmmaker
Years active 2010–present
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 阎羽茜
Traditional Chinese

Cathy Y. Yan is a Chinese-born American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Her films include the comedy-drama film Dead Pigs (2018) and Birds of Prey (2020), the eighth installment of the DC Extended Universe.

Early life and education

Yan was born in China and raised in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C. While her family was living in China, Yan's father was given a visa to study sociology in the U.S. Two years later her mother left for America, and Yan remained in China with her grandparents. At age four she was reunited with her parents in America.

As a child, Yan grew up with various creative outlets courtesy of her relatives and "deeply creative father". By age 8, Yan was the kid carrying around a video camera, eager to express herself through art and through dancing as a choreographer. She moved to Hong Kong when she was fourteen years old, where she attended high school.

She graduated with an A.B. from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 2008 after completing an 133-page-long senior thesis, titled "Can the Mouse Byte the Paper Tiger? Internet-mediated Social Movements and Political Change in China", under the supervision of Lynn T. White. She later graduated in 2016 from New York University's MBA/MFA dual degree program, where she studied at both the Stern School of Business and the Tisch School of the Arts.


Yan worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal in New York, Hong Kong and Beijing before turning to filmmaking.

After writing and directing several short films, Yan also shot a web-series and content for brands such as Armani, Subway, Spotify and The Innocence Project. By 2018, Yan made her feature debut with Dead Pigs. The film was inspired by the 2013 Huangpu River dead pigs incident, in which 16,000 dead pigs were found floating down the Huangpu River. Funded by Chinese investors, Yan shot the dark comedy in Shanghai with a bilingual crew then completed the film in New York; director Jia Zhangke executive produced. Dead Pigs premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won a Special Jury Award for ensemble acting. Yan removed 12 minutes from the film in its wider February 2021 release on the streaming platform Mubi.

In April 2018, Yan was selected to direct the Harley Quinn DC Extended Universe superhero film Birds of Prey, based on the comic of the same name. The film was released on February 7, 2020 to positive reviews. Margot Robbie starred and co-produced and Christina Hodson wrote the script. Yan was the second woman and the first Asian woman to direct a DC film (or any US superhero film).

As of January 2020, Yan is working on directing and producing A24's film adaptation of Sour Heart, a collection of short stories by Jenny Zhang. Yan will co-write the script alongside Zhang for the autobiographical coming-of-age story about the immigrant experience of a young girl who moved from Shanghai to New York in the 90s.

In February 2021, Yan started developing an adaptation of Rachel Khong's short story, The Freshening. FilmNation Entertainment and Ali Wong were set to produce the feature, with Yan writing and directing.'

In 2021, Yan directed an episode of the HBO drama series Succession called "The Disruption", in season three, episode three, for which she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.

Styles and themes

Yan's cinematic influences include Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. Since Yan's father was a big fan of the nineties era of Chinese cinema, Yan expanded into East Asian art-house cinema, which included Wong Kar-wai. Including American cinema, Yan appreciates the works of Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson. Yan considers Dead Pigs as "a marriage of the American indie and classic Chinese indie tones she grew up with."

Personal life

Yan is married; her husband works in the restaurant industry. Both Yan and her husband are currently based in New York.


Short film

Year Title Director Writer Producer
2010 Phishing No No Yes
2013 Last Night Yes Yes No
2014 Dinosaur Rider No No Yes
Entropy No No Yes
Of Tooth and Time No No Yes
2015 Humpty No No Yes
2016 Down River Yes Yes No
According to My Mother Yes Yes No
2017 Groomed No No Yes

Feature film

Year Title Director Writer
2018 Dead Pigs Yes Yes
2020 Birds of Prey Yes No


Year Title Notes
2021 Succession Episode: "The Disruption"

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Cathy Yan para niños

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