The U.S. Mint has announced it will begin shipping 25 cent coins featuring Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong marking the first time that U.S. currency features an Asian American. The late star will appear on a quarter, which will start shipping on Oct. 24, and is the fifth coin in the American Women Quarters Program, which honors trailblazing women.
Known for being Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, Wong, who died in 1961, was a champion of equal representation and less stereotypical portrayals of Asians on screen. Wong, who died in 1961, struggled over the course of her career to land roles in Hollywood in the early 20th century when Asian roles were often played by Caucasians.
Born Wong Liu Tsong, Wong had her first major success in the 1924 classic film “The Thief of Bagdad” with Douglas Fairbanks. She would later go on to do many more films, but not without suffering the injustices prevalent in that era.
When she did land roles they were often blatant racial stereotypes with Wong being paid well below that of other actors. As reported by NPR, Wong received only $6,000 for her top-billed role in Daughter of the Dragon – in sharp contrast to Warner Oland who earned $12,000, and only appeared in the first 23 minutes of the film. For the film Shanghai Express, Wong earned only $6,000 while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166.
In a 1933 interview with the Los Angeles Times expressed her distaste for the roles available to her in Hollywood.
“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.”