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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Anna May Wong will make history as the first Asian American to be featured on a piece of United States currency

Anna May Wong was only a little girl of 14 years old when she negotiated her way into her first part in a movie. At the time, she was the daughter of immigrants who lived in the Chinatown of this city. In the decades that followed, she built a career for herself and eventually became the first Asian American film star in the history of Hollywood. When Wong passed away in 1961, The New York Times referred to the actress as “one of the most memorable personalities of Hollywood’s glory days.” Wong was famous for her wide, expressive eyes and her fashion choices during the flapper period.

Now, Wong has secured a position on the quarter, another coveted position in the company. As part of a new initiative that also placed the author Maya Angelou and the astronaut Sally Ride on money, the United States Mint will begin making coins stamped with Wong’s picture on Monday. The artwork features a close-up of her face resting on an exquisite hand that has been groomed.

The new quarter pays tribute not just to Wong’s groundbreaking career but also to the challenges she overcame in her pursuit of major parts as an Asian American actor during an age characterised by “yellowface” and anti-miscegenation legislation. Shirley Jennifer Lim, a history professor at Stony Brook University, noted in her book on Wong’s career, “Wong battled with how to be an Asian American actor decades before the civil rights-generated category of Asian American existed.” Lim’s book is about Wong’s life and work.

It is anticipated that the United States Mint will produce more than 300 million Wong quarters, and she will be the first Asian American to appear on a piece of United States money. According to what Lim shared with me, this is an award that felt especially important considering how hard Wong battled to be acknowledged as an American. She remarked, “When you receive change, she may literally be there in the palm of your hand.” “When you get change.”

Chinatown was Wong’s birthplace, and her father was a laundryman who had a store on Figueroa Street. Wong was born in 1905. Around that time, the motion picture industry was beginning to establish a foothold in Los Angeles, and a growing number of projects were shooting in Wong’s neighbourhood.

Wong made the decision that she wanted to be an actress and started her career by portraying supporting roles. She was only 17 years old when she landed her first major part, which was in “The Toll of the Sea” (1922). But her career was hampered by the small number of roles available for Asian American actors and the stereotypical portrayals that those performers often played.

Wong was generally regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood; nonetheless, she was often unable to play love leads due to legal restrictions that prevented actors of various races from kissing each other on film. She relocated to Europe, where there were more roles available for non-white actresses. She became a leading actress in a number of films and even appeared in a play with Laurence Olivier.

However, she continued to struggle against the unjust limitations that Hollywood imposed on her. Wong was considered a strong contender for the part of starring actress in the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s book The Good Earth, which was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1930s and was based on a story about Chinese farmers written by Buck. However, a white actor was chosen to play the lead role in the film, and she was replaced by the white actor who was cast in the role that was originally intended for her.

In a statement, Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California who sponsored legislation to encourage the production of the coins, expressed her satisfaction at having been the driving force behind an initiative to honour “phenomenal” women who are frequently ignored in the annals of American history.

In a recent morning along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, visitors could be seen craning their necks to read the names that were engraved on the pavement. In 1960, the year before the actress passed away, she was given the pleasure of having a star placed at the famous junction of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The star included the name “Anna May Wong” highlighted in gold lettering.

The actress Lucy Liu, who in 2019 became the second Asian American woman to earn a star on the Walk of Fame, had a star placed directly next to the one that was awarded to B.D. Wong. During her address, Liu expressed her gratitude to Wong for paving the way for actresses like her and others.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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