circa 1935: American film star, Anna May Wong (1905 - 1961) poses with a cut rose.

Hollywood Legend Anna May Wong Will Be the First Asian American to Appear on U.S. Currency

Actress Anna May Wong will make history as the first Asian American to be minted onto U.S. currency. The Hollywood legend, known as the first Chinese American movie star, will be featured as part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program, which honors the achievements of influential American women. Wong will be the fifth in the series, which has previously iconic author Maya Angelou, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Cherokee Nation principal chief Wilma Mankiller, and New Mexico suffrage leader Nina Otero-Warren.

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Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said, “The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors, … This quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments by Anna May Wong, who overcame challenges and obstacles she faced during her lifetime.”

Wong began her career in silent movies before transitioning to talkies, where she starred in films such as films like Daughter of the Dragon (1931), Daughter of Shanghai (1937), and Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. While Wong achieved fame as both an actress and a style icon, she chafed against the restrictive and highly stereotyped roles available for Asian women. She endured racism and discrimination throughout her career, most notably at the hands of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The studio refused to cast her as Chinese character O-Lan in the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, opting instead to cast white actress Luise Rainer, who performed the role in yellowface. Wong continued working as an actor in Europe and America. She was also a political activist during World War II, where she campaigned in support of China against the Japanese invasion.

A biopic about Wong’s life is currently in the works, with Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians, Eternals) starring in and producing the film. Chan said of the actress, “Anna May Wong was a trailblazer, an icon and a woman ahead of her time, … Her talent and her exploration of her art both in and outside of the U.S. was groundbreaking — and the challenges and prejudice she faced in the early 20th century as an actress speak directly to the conversations and the world we are navigating today.”

(via The U.S. Mint, images: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.