Actress Anna May Wong on Monday became the first asian american to feature in the U.S. currency. The U.S. Mint will begin shipping coins featuring
As the first Asian American movie star in Hollywood, Anna May Wong fought for greater diversity and fewer stereotypical Asian American roles. Wong, who passed away in 1961, struggled to find jobs in Hollywood during the early 20th century, a time of “yellowface,” in which white people dressed like Asians and donned makeup, as well as anti-miscegenation laws that made interracial unions illegal.
The roles she played were racial stereotype-filled, and she was paid too little—Walter Oland, who barely appeared in the opening 23 minutes of Daughter of the Dragon, received $12,000, while she received $6,000 for the lead role. Wong made $6,000 for Shanghai Express while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166.
Following his encounter with this racial discrimination in Hollywood, Wong relocated to Europe and appeared in English, French, and German movies. In a 1933 interview, she expressed her boredom with the Hollywood roles she was required to portray to the Los Angeles Times.
“Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain — murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass,” she told the newspaper. “We are not like that.”
Anna May Wong earned star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960
Wong’s career spanned 60 films — many in the silent era — and she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
The U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program celebrates five female trailblazers in American history each year between 2022 and 2025. Anna May Wong is featured on the fifth coin released this year. The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver.
Mint Director Ventris Gibson called Wong “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors.”
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The tail of the coins will show a close-up of Wong with her head resting on her hand, while the front will feature a portrait of George Washington created by 20th century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, who became the first woman to design a coin for the U.S. in 1921.
The four other women in the program this year were poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.