There was by no means any doubt in Anna Might Wong’s thoughts. From the age of 11 onward, she knew she was meant to be on the silver display. Each week her father, proprietor of the Sam Kee Laundry on North Figueroa Avenue in Los Angeles, doled out 25 cents every to his seven kids. “We thought we had been wealthy on Mondays,” Wong later mused. She’d change into an professional at enjoying hooky from her afternoon Chinese language classes and hightailing it to the nickelodeons down on Major Avenue, the place she spent each final penny of her allowance on the “glints.” Little did she know that someday she would grace the exact same forex she eagerly shelled out on the field workplace window, her visage set to grace a brand new design for the quarter quickly.
This month, Anna Might Wong will take her immortal place on the face of the cash as a part of the US Mint’s American Girls Quarters Program. Set into movement in 2020 after it was launched as a Congressional invoice championed by Consultant Barbara Lee, this system celebrates the usually unsung achievements and pivotal contributions that girls have made in the midst of US historical past. Over the subsequent 4 years, a various checklist of American ladies shall be honored with their likeness on quarters, together with Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Trip, Wilma Mankiller, and Nina Otero-Warren.
Although her title dropped out of the limelight many a long time in the past, Anna Might Wong’s life and legacy are properly price remembering. For one factor, she had a rare knack for defying expectations—and never all the time in a great way. When she was born in 1905, her father was sorely disenchanted; he had needed a son. As Wong grew older, she held out in opposition to the tenets of what was anticipated of a very good Chinese language daughter, eschewing a lifetime of domesticity for one in movement photos.
After a number of years of additional work and bit elements on studio tons, she caught the attention of Douglas Fairbanks, the veritable King of Hollywood, who forged her in his 1924 fantasy blockbuster The Thief of Bagdad. The movie was the largest manufacturing the trade had ever seen, and the unlikely breakout function of a “Mongol slave” made 19-year-old Anna Might Wong a global sensation. In due time, she would journey the world, making movies in Berlin, Paris, and London; she would dazzle the social and mental elite throughout a number of nations, royalty and heads of state included, leaving trails of suitors in her wake; and he or she would even problem Hollywood at its personal sport by talking out in regards to the trade’s blatant racism.
“She was the primary Chinese language American lady that we had appearing in movies and tv,” Ventris Gibson, the director of the US Mint, tells V.F. by telephone after we converse in regards to the Mint’s resolution to pick out Wong for this system. “She not solely was a trailblazer and a pioneer in that regard, however she simply had an uncanny zealousness in regards to the occupation and what she might do to alter it for Chinese language People.” It was this need—to make a long-lasting affect past mere stardom—that set Wong aside.
Gibson, who’s the primary African American lady to carry her publish on the mint, notes that “whereas [Wong] didn’t win awards as she ought to have, she actually pushed the envelope and opened up the door for a lot of others to return in.” Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, who can be the primary lady to go the Division of Treasury in its 233-year historical past, echoes this sentiment. “I’m proud that these quarters honor ladies from various communities who’ve made outstanding contributions to the historical past of America, together with a trailblazer like Anna Might Wong,” she says by way of e-mail.
Over the course of Wong’s decades-long profession, she wielded her glamorous magnificence and razor-sharp wit to win over American moviegoers. Her followers wrote her poems and despatched her letters weekly by the lots of. Immediately, nevertheless, her life is usually wrongly characterised as tragic, and her profession is frequently distinguished by the function she famously didn’t get.
The story goes: After years of being stereotyped as sinister dragon women, scantily clad dancing women, and helpless China dolls—all elements which gave her a nasty title amongst her personal neighborhood—Wong longed to play a sympathetic Chinese language character. MGM’s 1937 adaptation of The Good Earth introduced the last word function: O-Lan, the selfless, hard-working spouse of Wang Lung the farmer, the girl behind the person. However Luise Rainer, a German import, was forged to play the half in yellowface as an alternative.
MGM reasoned that the Movement Image Manufacturing Code, which prohibited the romantic mixing of various races, would by no means approve of Wong within the function, seeing as Austro-Hungarian actor Paul Muni was already set to play the male lead. What’s extra, prime producer Irving G. Thalberg didn’t suppose Wong had the stature to hold a film of that caliber—despite the fact that it was producers like him who had relegated her to B-movie standing within the first place. This narrative was repeated as not too long ago as 2020 in Ryan Murphy’s revisionist Netflix miniseries Hollywood, which introduced Wong as bitter and hopeless in response to setbacks.
The actual story, although, isn’t in regards to the adversities Wong confronted: It’s about what she did regardless of them. Resilience was virtually her center title.
Take, for instance, when Hollywood tried to capitalize on her fame following the success of The Thief of Bagdad. Studios gave her outstanding billing with out the display time to match, so she up and left city and sailed all the best way to Germany. In 1929, she grew to become the darling of European cinema, starring in silent classics like Tune, Pavement Butterfly, and Piccadilly. She single-handedly galvanized demand for Chinese language silk shawls and brocade jackets in London’s Mayfair.