Actress Anna May Wong Is First Asian American To Appear On US Currency
The legendary Hollywood actress Anna May Wongwill become the first Asian American to appear on US currency.
Wong's face will appear on quarters across the country. She was known as Hollywood's first Asian American movie star, appearing in over 60 films. She will be featured as part of an initiative to highlight notable women in American quarters.
Wong's coin, which will be available on October 24, is the fifth design in the American Women Quarters Program, which honors trailblazing women by featuring their images on quarter coins.
Actress Anna May Wong, who broke into Hollywood during the silent film era, will be the first Asian American to appear on US currency, a century after landing her first leading role. Wong's image, complete with her signature blunt bangs and pencil-thin brows, will appear on the back of new quarters beginning October 24, 2022.
Wong's quarter will have a portrait of George Washington on the head side and a close-up image of Wong with her head resting on her hand, surrounded by the bright lights of a marquee sign on the tail side.
The fifth design to emerge from the American Women Quarters Program, which honors trailblazing women in their respective fields.
The other four quarters, which were all released this year, feature poet and activist Maya Angelou; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller; and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren. The latter two, along with Wong, were chosen with public input.
Wong, regarded as the film industry's first Chinese American star, overcame widespread prejudice to carve out a four-decade career in film, theater, and radio. She appeared on stage in London and New York alongside icons such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Laurence Olivier.
She began acting at the age of 14 and landed the lead role in "The Toll of the Sea" three years later, in 1922. She went on to appear in dozens of films, but she encountered racism in Hollywood, where she struggled to break free from stereotypical roles.
She moved to Europe in the 1920s but later returned to the United States to star in films such as "Shanghai Express," a 1932 adventure-romance film that gave Wong one of her most well-known roles. The film starred Dietrich as a notorious courtesan who takes a three-day rail journey through China during the Chinese Civil War and is held hostage on board, with Wong playing a fellow first-class passenger.
The film Shanghai Express was one of Wong's career highlights. She co-starred in the film with Marlene Dietrich, whom she had met in Germany. One of Shanghai Express's greatest achievements was that Wong's character survived to the end.
In a 1933 essay, she criticized the negative stereotyping of Asian actors, writing, "Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain?" And such a crude villain, murderous and treacherous, like a snake in the grass. That is not how we are. How should we react to a civilization that is thousands of years older than the West?"
Throughout her career, Wong advocated for more Asian American actors in Hollywood. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the year before she died at the age of 56.
Wong became a fashion icon for her ability to mix traditional Chinese gowns and flapper-era styles with eccentric touches.
A biopic of the actor's lifeis currently in production, with "Crazy Rich Asians" star Gemma Chan playing her.
Through 2025, the American Women Quarters program will select five different women to be featured on the coin's reverse side. Pilot Bessie Coleman, composer Edith Kanakaole, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, journalist and activist Jovita Idar, and ballerina Maria Tallchief are among the confirmed designs for next year.
Hopefully, the presence of actress Anna May Wong on the quarter will draw more attention to her illustrious career. In addition, Gemma Chan is set to play Wong in an upcoming biopic based on Graham Russel Gao Hodges' biography Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend.