Anna May Wong’s Legacy of Inclusion

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Anna Could Wong, previously Wong Liu Tsong, in a scene from 1934 movie Limehouse Blues. (Hulton Archive / Getty Photos)

Lucy Liu, Brenda Music, Gemma Chan and a slate of different Chinese language and Asian American actors owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Anna May Wong. A trailblazer who earned notoriety in Hollywood as an enormous expertise within the Nineteen Twenties and ’30s, she singlehandedly challenged the trade to redefine its idea of what constitutes a number one woman. According to Paramount film producer A.C. Lyles, her exhausting work and success so impressed manufacturing homes that they determined a Chinese language main woman was lengthy overdue. 

Whereas a vastly important accomplishment, Hollywood—citing a authorized concern—made the unlucky choice to forged a white ladies carrying yellowface over a well-proven Anna Could Wong in a MGM’s 1937 adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. She was provided a supporting a part of the seductress, Lotus—a stereotypical function she didn’t settle for. Tired of Hollywood’s type-casting, she took her abilities to Europe the place she was welcomed and celebrated. 

Returning to the U.S., she carried out on Broadway and efficiently transitioned from silent movies to sound movies—one thing many Hollywood actors failed to realize. Throughout World Battle II, Wong toured with the United Service Organizations and labored with the United China Reduction Fund.

In 1951, Wong made historical past together with her tv present The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first-ever U.S. tv present starring an Asian American collection lead. For a younger girl born to Chinese language immigrants who ran a laundry in Los Angeles, these qualities of diligence and resilience paved her strategy to worldwide success an actress, singer, trend icon and enterprise girl. 

anna-may-wong-asian-women-hollywood-history-us-mint-coin
(U.S. Mint)

It’s solely becoming—and lengthy overdue—that she is now being nationally celebrated because the fifth girl featured within the U.S. Mint’s American Women’s Quarters Program. Designed to acknowledge the usually unsung achievements and pivotal contributions ladies have made all through the course of historical past, she joins fellow feminine icons Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Trip, Wilma Mankiller and Nina Otero-Warren together with her likeness on the face of the quarter. 

This program is one vital step towards recognizing historic ladies who’ve been breaking obstacles and thwarting prejudice for generations. Historical past that doesn’t acknowledge their struggles and contributions is solely incomplete. In truth, a report taking a look at the Status of Women in U.S. Social Studies Standards discovered that girls’s matters are sometimes an addendum to the principle storyline and don’t collectively handle the breadth and depth of girls’s historical past. Moderately, they have a tendency to give attention to a minority of matters and overwhelmingly emphasize ladies in home roles—much more so for ladies of colour. 

Whereas Anna Could Wong could not have performed the main woman in Hollywood, she did obtain trend icon standing throughout the globe. Regardless of the usually degrading and stereotypical depictions of Chinese language ladies on display, Wong totally embraced and celebrated her heritage and ethnicity. She influenced Western trend together with her unique and unconventional fashion, incorporating using silk materials and floral patterns on conventional cultural items, such because the qipao or the high-neck collar Mao swimsuit. In truth, celebrity Marlene Dietrich—Wong’s good good friend with whom she shared the display in Shanghai Specific—usually copied her types in her personal trend selections. As an acknowledgement of her affect, Wong was named the most well-dressed women in the world by the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York in 1934. 

Whereas strides have been made because the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite (and so male) period, it’s no secret that Hollywood continues to have a variety drawback. Genuine and real change can solely be achieved when all facets—from writers to producers to actors and brokers—are allowed a significant voice and function. Wong was a real trailblazer, attempting to make a dent in how ladies, and specifically ladies of colour, have been perceived and valued. Her legacy ought to serve not solely as a lesson to Hollywood, however as an inspiration for the following era of main American feminine artists—and all artists—to come back.

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