If you’re confused reading the title, rest assured that so was a person who is more knowledgeable about anime than historical figures. The name Anna May Wong sounds similar to Anime Wong in quick passing conversation, but Anna created a storm in the Western world way before anime swept up the pop culture. Anna May Wong was a trailblazing figure who broke down barriers for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Let’s take a quick look at her life and work.
Early Life and Career
Wong was born in Los Angeles to Chinese immigrants. Her father was a laundryman, and her mother was a seamstress. Wong was the second of eight children. She began acting at a young age, and she appeared in her first film, “The Red Lantern,” in 1919. She continued to act in films throughout the 1920s, but she often played stereotypical roles, such as the exotic Asian temptress.
In 1928, Wong moved to Europe to escape the discrimination she faced in Hollywood. She starred in several films in Europe, including “Schmutziges Geld” (1928) and “Piccadilly” (1929). She also appeared on stage in London.
Return to Hollywood
Wong returned to Hollywood in the 1930s. She starred in several films, including “Daughter of the Dragon” (1931) and “Shanghai Express” (1932). However, she still faced discrimination, and she was often offered only stereotypical roles.
In 1934, Wong was offered the lead role in the film “The Good Earth.” However, the role was eventually given to a another actress. This was a major disappointment for Wong, and it highlighted the racism she faced in Hollywood.
Wong continued to act in films throughout the 1930s and 1940s. However, she also began to focus on her career on stage and on television. In 1951, she starred in the television series “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.” She was the first Asian American to star in a leading role in a U.S. television series.
Wong retired from acting in the 1960s. She untimely passed away in 1961 at the age of 56 because of a heart attack.
Anna May Wong was a pioneer for Asian Americans in Hollywood. She broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations of Asian American actors. She was a talented actress who was also a strong advocate for civil rights. In the documentary, “Anna May Wong: In Her Own Words”, we see how Anna May Wong was one of the few actors to transition from silent to sound cinema, yet she spent most of her career typecast as a painted doll or a dragon lady.
For years, generations of Chinese Americans frowned upon the roles she played; but today a younger generation of Asian Americans sees her as a pioneering artist. Her legacy continues to inspire people today.
The Anna May Wong Quarter: In 2022, the United States Mint released a quarter coin in honor of Anna May Wong. This was the first time that an Asian American had been featured on a U.S. coin. The coin features a portrait of Wong. The release of the coin was a major victory for Asian American representation, and it helped to raise awareness of Wong’s legacy.
Anna May Wong was a pioneer for Asian Americans in Hollywood, and her legacy continues to inspire people today. She is an important figure in American history, and her story is a reminder that we can all overcome adversity and achieve our dreams.