Film Icon Anna May Wong Becomes the First Asian American on U.S. Currency

Anna May Wong” by ADiamondFellFromTheSky is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese American film star, is the new coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program, which celebrates five women in American history each year from 2022 to 2025.

In the press, release, Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson explained the decision to showcase the celluloid icon: “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.” He added, “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.”

Other celebrated women included in this currency program were Maya Angelou, the celebrated writer, performer, and social activist; Dr. Sally Ride, renowned astronaut, educator, and first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first woman superintendent of Santa Fe public schools.

Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Aanna May Wong, and Nina Otero-Warren on the new designs for the “American Women Quarters.” United States Mint

The official site details that the coin features a close-up image of Anna May Wong with her head resting on her hand, surrounded by the bright lights of a marquee sign.  Shipment of the coin will start on October 24, and the star’s face will be laminated on over 300 million quarters, according to a report by The New York Times.

Born on January 3, 1905, in Los Angeles, Anna May began acting when she was a teen and landed her first leading role in “The Toll of the Sea” in 1922. Overall, Anna May Wong appeared in more than 60 films including Daughter of the Dragon, Picadilly, Daughter of Shanghai, and Shanghai Express, the acclaimed picture, starring Marlene Dietrich. Wong also was the first Asian American lead actor in a U.S. television show The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong in 1951.

And speaking of Fire Island, you cannot make a list of notable LGBTQ AAPIs without mentioning the film’s lead actor and writer, Joel Kim Booster. The movie is filled with Joel’s observations about his own identity as a gay Asian man, and his stand-up routine showcases his unique perspective as a Korean American adopted by white evangelical parents. If you want a peak into his creative mind, don’t miss his amazing special Psychosexual, currently streaming on Netflix.

Anna May Wong in “Daughter of Shanghai” (1931)

But during her career, Wong had to face constant discrimination, so she traveled to Europe and worked in English, German, and French films. She spoke openly about the need for greater representation of Asian American actors in the entertainment industry. Wong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the year before she died aged 56; she was the first Asian American actress to receive this honor. Wong is now remembered not only as a film star but also as a trailblazer and champion of Asian Americans in film.

Anna May Wong 1905 – 1961” by oneredsf1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.