A little more than six months after Chinese TV maker TCL paid $5 million for the naming rights to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, another Chinese company is spending $20 million to boost its own brand recognition in Hollywood.
The Dalian Wanda Group, which last year purchased U.S. movie chain AMC Theatres for $2.6 billion, has donated $20 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for its new film museum, slated to open in 2017.
In recognition of the gift — the museum's second-largest after music mogul David Geffen's $25-million contribution — the museum's film history gallery will be named the Wanda Gallery. The institution, on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is being designed by architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali.
Bill Kramer, the museum's managing director for development, said he and academy Chief Executive Dawn Hudson met with Wanda's chairman, Wang Jianlin, in late spring when Wang was visiting Los Angeles.
"He loved the museum — loved the vision, loved Renzo's design, loved the location in the heart of Los Angeles," Kramer said. "And he loved that it would be curated by the academy with a global eye toward the history and future of movies."
Wanda owns shopping centers, luxury hotels, department stores and cinemas in China, and Wang was named China's richest man this month by the Hurun Report, a wealth index. Wang told The Times last year that he intends to invest $10 billion in U.S. companies in the next decade, but corporate philanthropy is something many Chinese companies are only beginning to engage in.
Analysts said Wanda's $20-million bequest to the academy museum would go a long way to boost the company's brand identity in the U.S. for a relatively small price.
"With the Hollywood-China connection heating up, Wang has made himself one of the key players — and the one with the most money," said Stanley Rosen, a political science professor at USC who specializes in Chinese politics, film and society. "I think it's part of Wang's effort to get his name out there. It's all about branding."
Ying Zhu, a U.S. based scholar of Chinese cinema and media and a professor of Media Culture at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island, says the donation is the first of what she expects will be many from Chinese film corporations interested in using film as a way to improve their cultural reputation with the U.S.
"We will see more of such offers coming from China down the road as cinema has become China's new frontier for battles against the West for the hearts and minds of global audiences," said Zhu. "What could be better than utilizing Hollywood to do the bidding for you?"
For the academy, Wanda's investment could give the nascent institution a higher profile not only in Hollywood but overseas too.
"The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a global cultural institution, and the Dalian Wanda Group's support of the project speaks to the worldwide importance and the appeal of the movies," museum campaign chair Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Co., said in a statement. "Their gift to the academy museum is a huge boost to our efforts to design and build the world's leading movie museum."
According to Kramer, the academy has already raised more than half of its intended goal of $300 million, and it plans to have completed its fundraising by the time construction begins in the fourth quarter of 2014.
As part of a larger partnership with Wanda, the academy said it would extend its global programming reach and advise the company on film screenings and symposiums in China. Kramer said the partnership would be a cross-cultural exchange, one in which the academy envisions installations, screenings and other events from the museum traveling to China and vice versa.
Though Wanda does not have any funds invested in film museums in China, it is building a cultural center in the eastern city of Qingdao that could serve as a home for screenings and exhibitions.
"Our relationship with the academy is an important part of our role in the global motion-picture industry," Wang said in a statement. "I am, and the Dalian Wanda Group is, very pleased to partner with the academy and support the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures."
Kramer indicated that several other gifts are expected to be announced shortly, but likely none as large as Geffen's or Wanda's. According to fundraising materials distributed to prospective donors, three other galleries in the museum still have naming rights available for $10 million. In addition, both the red carpet stairs (which lead from the piazza to the Premiere Theatre) and the rooftop dining room (which seats 1,000 guests) are still available for $10 million.
Staff writer Mike Boehm contributed to this report.