Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

For today’s leader profile, I want to talk about Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American movie star, who came from a humble beginning, and spent her life forging a path in Hollywood for generations of Asian American actresses to come.

Anna May was born in 1905 as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She found passion in film at a young age, and landed her first role at 14. Through hard work and dedication, she was exceptional at her craft, achieving international stardom at 19. Her work spanned silent film, sound film, and television from the 1920s to the 1960s. 

What inspired me most is her tenacity and integrity. In Hollywood, she was cast in mostly narrow, stereotypical roles. Working within the limits of the industry, she stood up for herself whenever she could. She created a production company to make her own films. She moved to Europe, hoping to find a less discriminative representation of her and her culture.

And upon returning to the US, she famously turned down the role in the later Oscar-winning movie, the Good Earth, by saying “I won’t play the part. You’re asking me—with Chinese blood—to do the only unsympathetic role in the picture, featuring an all-American cast portraying Chinese characters.”

Anna May Wong eventually received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. With her paving the way, we saw the second star awarded to Lucy Liu almost 50 years later, and the success of Crazy Rich Asian featuring all-asian cast today.

Written by Vicky Pan, a member at Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters

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