Anna May Wong is the subject of the fifth quarter in the American Women Quarters Program™. Wong was the first Chinese American woman to achieve Hollywood stardom.
Wong has left a lasting legacy through her career and image. In times of widespread racism and discrimination, she helped to humanize Chinese Americans through her films and public appearances. Chinese Americans like Wong were shunned and treated as foreigners in American society for a long time. However, despite the immigration laws and citizens discriminating against Chinese immigrants, her films and public image established her as an American. Hybrid American-Chinese pictures like hers dispelled the myth that East and West are intrinsically different.
Shanghai Express was the only film to receive critical attention decades after Wong’s death. Many of her films were screened in European film festivals, including England. However, because the mainstream movie industry had marginalized her, the also-marginalized gay community often considered her one of its own. Chinese nationalists were offended by her depictions of “Dragon Lady” and “Butterfly” stereotypes, leading to the actress falling into obscurity in mainland China. The yearly Asian-American Arts Awards are a testament to Wong’s contributions to the Asian-American film community. As of 1973, the annual award bestowed by the Asian Fashion Designers group was named after Wong.
For decades, Wong’s image has endured as a Chinese literature and film symbol. Hagedorn viewed her career as “tragic glamour,” and she was said to be a “fragile maternal presence, an Asian-American woman who gave birth to Asian-American screen women in the jazz age, however ambivalently.”
In 1989, John Yau wrote a poem called “No One Ever Tried to Kiss Anna May Wong” in response to Anna May Wong’s character in Shanghai Express; the poem details a series of tragic romances compared to the actress’ career. The 2019 book Oculus, by Sally Wen Mao, has narration in the voice of Anna May Wong. Later, Wong’s image was briefly used to symbolize the “tragic diva” in David Cronenberg’s 1993 film adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s 1986 play Butterflies. Finally, China Doll, The Imagined Life of an American Actress, was a fictional play written by Elizabeth Wong in 1995 inspired by her life.
Two different retrospectives of Wong’s films were held at the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City in the weeks leading up to the centennial of her birth. In the opinion of Anthony Chan, Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905–1961) was the first significant biography of Anna May Wong written with a uniquely Asian-American sensibility.
Several books about her were published in 2004, including a memoir by Philip Leibfried and Chei Mi Lane and a biography by Graham Russell Hodges called Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. While many issues persist with Anna May Wong’s life, career, and legacy even decades after her death, Anthony Chan believes that her place in Asian-American cinematic history as the first female star cannot be disputed.
The Anna May Wong Story: Shining Star, an illustrated biography for children, was published in 2009.
With four protagonists, including a fictionalized Anna May Wong, Peter Ho Davies’s novel The Fortunes is a saga of Chinese-American experiences, including the struggle to find authenticity.
On January 22, 2020, Google created a Doodle to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the release of Toll of the Sea.
Hollywood, a 2020 Netflix series with Ryan Murphy, stars Michelle Krusiec as Wong. The series presents an alternate history version of 1940s Hollywood.
In addition to the American Women’s Quarter series, the United States Mint announced that Wong would be one of the first women depicted on a quarter starting in 2021. She becomes the first Asian American woman to be represented on a U.S. coin.
To commemorate George Washington’s 200th birthday, Laura Gardin Fraser composed and sculpted a portrait of him on the obverse (heads). Mellon selected the John Flannigan design for the 1932 quarter as design inspiration.
On the reverse (tails), Anna May Wong is shown with her head resting on her hand, bright lights surrounding her.
In God We Trust
United States of America
E Pluribus Unum
Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco (P, D & S)
Business & Proof
Composition in Proof & Business Strike: 91.67% Copper & 8.33% Nickel
Composition in Silver Proof: 99.9 Fine Silver
Clad Weight: 5.670 grams
Silver Weight: 5.641 grams
Edge: Reeded & Number of Reeds: 119
American Women Quarter Artist Information
Obverse Design: Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)
Reverse Design: Sculptor John P. McGraw, Medallic Artist
Designer: Emily Damstra, Artistic Infusion Program
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