Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. 
She first secured her lead role at the age of 17 in the film The Toll of the Sea. She appeared in over 50 films in her lifetime, and despite the racism and stereotypical roles she was offered, she stealthily built on her own career path in Europe and Hollywood.

The actress was born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles's Chinatown district. Her parents owned a laundromat. She attended a mostly white school, but as a third-generation Chinese American, she still experienced racism and transferred to a Chinese school, The movies became Tsongs escape. She would sometimes ditch class to observe film sets in town. All of that hanging around film sets earned Wong the attention of casting directors. She made her film debut at age 14 in The Red Lantern and secured her first lead role as Lotus Flower in Madame Butterfly-inspired feature, The Toll of the Sea, when she was just 17 years old, per Time. Two years later, she appeared in The Thief of Bagdad, which is considered her breakout role. Wong's typecasting into roles of seductive temptresses highlighted a tired racial trope of the exoticized
Asian woman. Anna May Wong Color Portrait
This was not only frustrating for Wong in America but also cause ridicule in her family's home country. "Her role as a sexually available Chinese woman would eventually earn her resentful criticism in China," biographer Russell Gao Hodges wrote of the actress, per Time. Even when she visited China for the first time in 1936, she faced backlash. Lead roles or Asian characters with depth were given to white actresses who wore yellowface, especially in The Good Earth. In 1928's The Crimson City, Wong was given a minor role and had to teach Myrna Loy, a white actress playing the Asian lead, how to use chopsticks, Hodges writes in her biography. Overseas, Wong starred in films in Berlin, Paris, and London, many in various languages, according to PBS Thirteen. One of her most famous projects was 1929's Piccadilly. Wong retired in 1947 but returned to the screen years later. In 1951, she made history yet again as the first Asian American to lead a television series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, where she starred as a gallery owner and detective. She was also hoping to appear in the film Flower Drum Song in 1961, but she died that year at the age of 55.

Gonzales, Erica. “Hollywood Tries to Right Anna May Wong’s Story—Here’s What Really Happened.” Harper’s BAZAAR, Harper’s BAZAAR, 2 May 2020,

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