Actress Anna May Wong to be first Asian American on US currency

When Anna May Wong first entered Hollywood in the 1920s, the world of American entertainment was dominated almost exclusively by white filmmakers. When people of other races were cast at all, it was often to play roles of crude caricatures.

During her career, Wong would challenge such stereotypes and break new ground in the industry, eventually becoming the first Asian-American woman to receive a star on Hollywood’s coveted Walk of Fame.

While Wong passed away in 1961 after a celebrated film career, she is once again being honored for her contributions: Her image will be featured on new U.S. currency coins, making her the first Asian American to ever use U.S. currency.

“This quarter is designed to reflect the scope and depth of Anna May Wong’s achievements as she overcame challenges and obstacles she faced during her lifetime,” said Mint Director Ventris Gibson in a statement. pronunciation.

As the U.S. Mint begins shipping special quarters Monday, here are five facts about Wong’s life and storied career:

Wong appeared in more than 60 films during her career

Wong was only 14 years old when she was cast as an extra in The Red Lantern, her first film.

Three years later, in 1922, she got her first lead role in the movie The Toll of the Sea.

However, despite her talent as an actress, Wong was often assigned roles portraying racist, stereotypical images of Asian people. Two years later, The Toll of the Sea, Wong played a Mongolian slave in The Thief of Baghdad, and often landed “dragon lady” roles in movies — a stereotype that portrays Asian women as fierce and mysterious.

White actors were often given priority for lead roles. Wong was famously passed over for the lead role in the 1937 film, The Good Earth, based on a famous novel about a Chinese peasant family. Instead, the role was given to white actress Luise Rainer.

Wong was a ‘brave advocate’ for Asian Americans

Despite the prevalence of racism in Hollywood, Wong consistently pushed for greater representation of Asian-American actors. Her demands eventually began to pay off: In 1938, she landed a more sympathetic role as a Chinese-American doctor in The King of Chinatown.

Previous roles have revolved around stereotypical figures that audiences would likely view with less sympathy, including a sex worker, an untrustworthy daughter, and a “dragon lady.”

The contrast between those roles and her character in The King of Chinatown will be featured in a month-long program in November at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Titled Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years, the program examines the contributions and hardships of Chinese American entertainers.

“The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who advocated greater representation and more multidimensional roles for Asian-American actors,” said Gibson of the US Mint.

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She was the first Asian-American woman to receive a Hollywood star

Wong’s contributions were recognized in 1960, when she became the first Asian-American actress to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Her role in, The King of Chinatown, was widely regarded as a breakthrough for Wong and Asian-American actors.

“[‘King of Chinatown’] was part of this multi-image deal at Paramount that gave her more control, more say in the kind of movies she would participate in,” said author Arthur Dong, who will be the curator of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures program.

“For a Chinese-American woman to have such a multi-photo deal at Paramount, that was quite remarkable.”

In the 1950s, Wong made the transition from film to television. She also spent time performing in theater productions in London and New York, in part due to the fact that she often landed offensive and underpaid roles in Hollywood.

She will be featured in currency series along with other trailblazing women

Wong is one of five women in the American Women Quarters Program, which aims to highlight the cultural and historical contributions of various American women.

The other icons chosen include writer Maya Angelou; Dr Sally Ride, an educator and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first female leader of the Cherokee Nation, and Nina Otero-Warren, a key figure in the women’s movement in New Mexico.

“What it means is that people across the country — and I suspect the entire world — will see her face and see her name,” Dong said of Wong’s effigy on the coin. “If they don’t know about her, they’ll be… curious and want to know about her.”

Asian-American groups celebrated the announcement

While the brutal racism that dominated Hollywood in Wong’s day wouldn’t be accepted today, anti-Asian racism and violence have continued in the United States, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Against this backdrop, Asian-American organizations have celebrated Wong’s selection as an acknowledgment of their communities’ contributions to US life and culture.

Bing Chen, co-founder of the nonprofit Gold House, which aims to highlight Asian-American content and push for representation, called the new neighborhood “memorable” and noted that Wong was an icon “for generations.”

However, Chen said Asian Americans still face obstacles today.

“In a slate of years where Asian women faced extensive challenges — from assaulted to on-screen objectification to the least likely group to be promoted to business management — this currency reinforces what many of us have known all along: [they’re] here and dignified,” Chen said in a statement. “However, as a hyphenated community, it’s impossible to forget that Asian Americans are constantly struggling between being successful and being seen.”


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