Anna May Wong made history during Hollywood’s Golden Age by becoming the first notable Asian-American actress in the industry. She enters Hollywood at the age of only 14. True stardom eludes her over the course of her career as a result of racism that she experiences professionally. Nowadays, Anna venerates as the groundbreaking icon. She’ll accomplish more if it isn’t for the backward practices of the industry at the time that she enters. Prior to her death, Anna sets to star in the first Hollywood production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Anna May Wong died before her final movie role.
She’s popular as Anna May Wong born on January 3, 1905, in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles, California. At the time of her birth, Anna she’s Wong Liu Tsong. It’ll be until her early teen years that she comes up with her more memorable stage name. Anna’s parents owned a laundromat. Although this didn’t afford the family a life of luxury, it allowed them to take care of themselves. Despite her parent’s wishes, her interest in education becomes less and more in movies when she’s growing up. Anna is growing up at a time when moving pictures are a relatively new thing. On the outskirts of Hollywood, she gets the opportunity to become a fly on the wall during memorable film shoots.
During Anna’s early school years, she enters a mostly white school that didn’t prove a positive environment for her. Anna experiences a good deal of racism from both her peers and authority figures from an early age. Prompting her to convince her parents to transfer to a Chinese school. Although Anna is born in America, she’s third-generation Chinese. It means her grandparents are born in China before making the movie over to America.
When young Anna is cynical about the racism that she’s experiencing, the burgeoning world of the film proves her escape. After the movie at her Chinese school, Anna plays hooky in order to go to film shoots as a gawker. To the point where Anna is showing up to so many film shoots that she catches the attention of producers. Anna struggles through the crowd in order to get as close to the filming as possible. The film crews are quick to notice this small Chinese girl desperately clamoring to test the industry.
As young Anna continues ditching school and hanging out around film sets. She catches the attention of a prominent casting director who visits where she’s casting in her very first film. Anna casts in her first film, The Red Lantern, at the age of only 14. By this time, Anna had already come up with her stage name.
Following her first film role, she receives her first leading role in a film at the age of 17. This came in the film The Toll of the Sea, which became notable for several reasons. The Toll of the Sea is the first widely available release to film in Technicolor. Although the film format becomes popular with such features as The Wizard of Oz. Anna’s role in the film becomes the first notable Hollywood production to feature an Asian-American actress in the lead. The film inspires by the opera Madame Butterfly. It is previously adapted into a feature film of the same name with a white woman in the lead role. Given that the lead role was that of a geisha, the Asian-American Anna proved much more fitting.
In 1924, when Anna is only 19 years old, she makes even greater history with her own production company. It is to be dubbed Anna May Wong Productions. Sadly, the deal for the production company fell through. Anna’s vision is to produce her own features, allowing herself to create her own Asian-American roles. A feature without the racist restrictions of Hollywood executives. When Anna’s deal with the production company fall, she forces herself to continue trying to find work within Hollywood. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Anna May Wong makes history as the first Asian-American actress to appear in a notable Hollywood film. The Hollywood industry remains considerably racist towards the actress over the course of her remaining career. After Anna’s deal for her production company falls in 1924, she appears in the film The Thief of Bagdad later. Many consider Anna’s role in the film to be her breakout role, but it wasn’t an especially progressive one. While Anna is hoping to continue making history in Hollywood with Asian-American features created by Anna May Wong Productions, she forces to play the role of the barely clothed Asian seductress in The Thief of Bagdad. Although Anna found success with the part, she also became pigeonholed because of it.
According to Anna May Wong, after her breakout turn in The Thief of Bagdad, the majority of her remaining Hollywood roles would either see her playing a similar seductress or an even more superficial oriental villainess. Anna felt that all of these roles were disrespectful of her heritage, but she continued performing them in hopes that something better would come down the line. In some respects, Anna gets the respect she deserves during her lifetime. However, many feel that it is too little and too late!
Anna May Wong excludes from Hollywood as a result of her Chinese heritage and excludes in China as a result of her willingness to seemingly sell her culture out in Hollywood productions that views her orientalism as something to be either a fetish or fear. Having been born in America, Anna didn’t first travel to China until 1936. Upon her visit, she isn’t welcome by her own people. While Anna May Wong certainly made history and broke ground in a lot of ways, she never quite achieved the success that she deserved, and she never quite felt that she belonged wherever she happened to be.
Despite Anna May Wong making history as the first notable Asian-American actress in Hollywood, she forces to watch in horror over the course of much of her career as prominent Asian-American roles went to white actresses in “yellowface”. Anna will find herself campaigning for these roles only side roles in an effort to provide said production at least some modicum of Asian-American authenticity. One such production occurred was 1928’s The Crimson City. Anna had campaigned for the lead Asian-American role in the feature, which ended up going to white actress Myrna Loy. Instead, Anna casts in a side role, with many believing this occurs so that she can be on set to teach Myrna how to use chopsticks.
Over the course of her lifetime, Anna appeared in over 50 films. The actress’s most notable feature arguably remains in 1932, when the Asian-American actress forces to play second fiddle to Marlene Dietrich. 1937’s The Good Earth proved another production in which Anna May Wong campaigned for the lead Asian-American role only to be turned down for a white actress. This time, Anna had no desire to take a side role just so that she could be deemed worthy enough to take part in the production. It was Luise Rainer who ended up getting the lead part in the film, and she won an Academy Award as a result of her performance. Nowadays, an actress appearing in the amount of yellowface that the role required would be cause for cancellation!
While Anna May Wong lost out on the lead role in 1937’s The Good Earth, she had a minor victory the same year alongside Korean-American actor Philip Ahn when they became the first Asian-American couple ever to appear in Hollywood cinema with 1937’s Daughter of Shanghai. In 1947, Anna retired from the entertainment industry for a few years before being talked back into performing the lead role in a television series by the name of The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. The series came on the air in 1951. With it, Anna made history once again by becoming the first Asian-American actress to take on the lead on a television series. The series revolved around it’s titular character, played by Anna, who was a gallery owner moonlighting as a detective.
With a lifetime’s worth of big struggles and small victories behind her, Anna May Wong was set to have her biggest Hollywood victory yet when tragedy struck in 1961. She was set to take on a role in the first Hollywood production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast, with that production being Flower Drum Song. Sadly, Anna passed away before she could film the role. The cause of death was a heart attack, and the actress was only 55 years old.
Despite Anna May Wong making history in many ways as the first Asian-American actress of note in Hollywood, she still never received the recognition that she deserved in the industry as a result of racist practices. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Anna May Wong made history by becoming the first Asian-American actress to take on a lead role in a Hollywood feature film, and that she was very nearly given her own production company at age 19? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!