Wednesday, May 31, 2023|
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More than 60 years after Anna May Wong became the first Asian American woman to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the pioneering actor has coined another first.
With quarters bearing her face and manicured hand set to start shipping Monday, per the U.S. Mint, Wong will be the first Asian American to grace U.S. currency. Few could have been more stunned at the honor than her niece and namesake, Anna Wong, who learned about the American Women Quarters honor from the Mint’s head legal consul.
“From there, it went into the designs and there were so many talented artists with many different renditions. I actually pulled out a quarter to look at the size to try and imagine how the images would transfer over to real life,” Anna Wong wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
The elder Wong, who fought against stereotypes foisted on her by Hollywood, is one of five women being honored this year as part of the program. She was chosen for being “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” Mint Director Ventris Gibson said in a statement.
Other icons chosen include writer Maya Angelou; Dr. Sally Ride, an educator and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first female elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Nina Otero-Warren, a trailblazer for New Mexico’s suffrage movement.
Wong’s achievement has excited Asian Americans inside the entertainment industry.Her niece, whose father was Anna May Wong’s brother, will participate in an event with the Mint on Nov. 4 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. One of Wong’s movies, “Shanghai Express,” will be screened, followed by a panel discussion.
Arthur Dong, the author of “Hollywood Chinese,” said the quarter feels like a validation of not just of Wong’s contributions, but of all Asian Americans’. A star on the Walk of Fame is huge, but being on U.S. currency is a whole other stratosphere of renown.
“What it means is that people all across the nation — and my guess is around the world — will see her face and see her name,” Dong said. “If they don’t know anything about her, they will be curious and want to learn.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong started acting during the silent film era. While her career coincided with Hollywood’s first Golden Age, things were not so golden for Wong.
She got her first big role in 1922 in “The Toll of the Sea,” according to Dong’s book. Two years later, she played a Mongol slave in “The Thief of Bagdad.” For several years, she was stuck receiving offers only for femme fatale or Asian “dragon lady” roles.
She fled to European film sets and stages, but Wong was back in the U.S. by the early 1930s. In 1938, she got to play a more humanized, sympathetic Chinese American doctor in “King of Chinatown.”
She died on Feb. 2, 1961, a year after receiving her star.
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