Anna May Wong, a Hollywood film star, who had a trailblazing career, will be the first Asian American featured on U.S. currency. The U.S. Mint on Monday will begin producing quarters with her image.
In 1905, the legendary Wong Liu Tsong was born in Los Angeles her family gave her the English name Anna May. She appeared in more than sixty films and became the first Asian American lead actor in an American television show for her role in “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.”
After being discriminated against in Hollywood, she took her talents to the European scene to pursue films and theater productions in 1928 but returned two years later after being offered a contract from Paramount Studios. Her contract with Paramount Studios guaranteed her more leading roles and higher pay.
A big problem kept recurring in her return to Hollywood. She kept playing stereotypical “evil Chinese” roles, but her last stereotypical role was in “Daughter of the Dragon” in 1931. She made significantly less than her co-star Sessue Hayakawa. Wong received $6,000, and Hayakawa made $10,000. Warner Oland appeared in the film for 23 minutes and banked $12,000 for his role in the movie.
In 1931, she started to use her celebrity status to make political statements for Chinese American causes and better treatment in Hollywood for Asian actors and actresses, which included better storytelling and higher pay. After speaking out, Wong’s career started to go downhill. The Chinese American superstar began to pass over for leading female roles in films such as “The Son-Daughter and The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” MGM deemed her “too Chinese” to play a Chinese character in “The Son-Daughter,” so the role went to Helen Hayes instead.
Outside of film, Wong was recognized by many as a fashion icon as well. She was voted “The World’s best-dressed woman” in 1934 by the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York. The iconic figure also received the title “The World’s most beautiful Chinese girl” by Look Magazine in 1938.
Wong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. A year later, Wong passed away in her sleep due to a heart attack.
“The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed the increase of representation and multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” said U.S. Mint director Ventris C. Gibson.
The quarter features a close-up image of Wong with her head resting on her hand, surrounded by marquee lights.
“Along with the hard work, determination, and skill Anna May Wong brought to the profession of acting, I think it was her face and expressive gestures that really captivated movie audiences, so I included these elements next to her name,” said designer Emily Damstra.
The American Women Quarters program will feature other icons such as Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, and Nina Otero-Warren. Next year’s class will include Bessie Coleman, Edith Kanakaʻole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idar, and Maria Tallchief.