Anna May Wong, who rose to prominence in Hollywood during the silent film era, will become the first Asian American to appear on US money, a century after landing her first main part. Wong’s visage, with her signature blunt bangs and pencil-thin brows, will appear on the back of new quarters beginning Monday.
The fifth design to emerge from the American Women Quarters Program, which honors trailblazing women in their various fields. The other four quarters, which were all released this year, include poet and activist Maya Angelou; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller; and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren. The last two, along with Wong, were chosen with public input.
“These inspiring coin designs tell the stories of five extraordinary women whose contributions are indelibly etched in American culture,” the US Mint’s acting director, Alison Doone, said in a statement to CNN last year, when the list was revealed.
Wong, regarded as the film industry’s first Chinese American star, overcame widespread prejudice to build out a four-decade career in film, theater, and radio. She appeared on stage in London and New York alongside giants such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Laurence Olivier.
She began acting at the age of 14 and landed the lead role in “The Toll of the Sea” three years later, in 1922. She went on to act in scores of films, but she encountered deep-seated bigotry in Hollywood, where she battled to break out from conventional roles.
In the 1920s, she moved to Europe, but later returned to the United States to star in films such as “Shanghai Express,” a 1932 adventure-romance film that gave Wong one of her most well-known roles — it starred Dietrich as a notorious courtesan who takes a three-day rail journey through China during the Chinese Civil War and is held hostage on board, with Wong playing a fellow first-class passenger.
Wong has long advocated for greater representation of Asian American actors in Hollywood. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the year before her death at the age of 56.
Wong became a fashion star for her ability to blend traditional Chinese robes and flapper-era trends with unique touches. A biopic of the actor’s life is presently in production, with “Crazy Rich Asians” star Gemma Chan playing her.
“Many prominent actors from the 1920s and 1930s saw their name framed by lightbulbs on movie theater marquees, so I thought it made sense to feature Anna May Wong in this way,” said the coin’s designer, Emily Damstra, in a press release.
“Along with the hard work, determination, and skill Anna May Wong brought to the profession of acting, I think it was her face and expressive gestures that really captivated movie audiences, so I included these elements next to her name.”