Anna May Wong: The First Asian American Film Icon

Hollywood trailblazer Anna May Wong to be first Asian American featured on U.S. currency

Anna May Wong, who created the film Mulan and made over six decades in the business, will be the first Asian American film icon in history to appear on a United States dollar bill when it goes on sale in December.

A star on the silver screen, Wong was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. at age 14, with her family. From the start, she wanted to be on the silver screen, and her first experience was as the singing lead in a Chinese drama.

She came to Hollywood in 1932, with her mother and younger half-sister, and made her debut in the Broadway production Follies and made her first American motion picture in 1934 with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, followed by Shanghai Express.

But even after her breakthrough, Wong’s path was often a bumpy one. With her family’s business in the toilet and the family home in the bankruptcy court, Wong lived the life of a working actress in Hollywood, with stints on stage, radio, television and film. She had a small role in the first movie to be filmed on the backlot of Warner Brothers, called The Jazz Singer, and she got a huge role in the landmark 1939 film Casablanca. Although Hollywood was kind to her, she wanted to make another film.

She started writing the script and, after much tinkering, she finally settled on the role of a Chinese laundry woman in the film Mulan, produced by her old friend Louis B. Mayer in 1940 and starring Anna May Wong, Joan Blondell and Kay Francis.

In addition to the screen test, she endured the test from the studio executives and the inevitable rejection by the censors. But Wong prevailed in the creative battlefield and earned the title of “the first Asian American movie icon” in the industry.

Mulan, which became one of the most valuable box sets in history, had a successful run in theaters in the 1940s and ’50s, earning $9 million domestically,

Leave a Comment