On Monday, the US Mint will start sending out coins with actress Anna May Wong on them. She is the first Asian American to be on US currency.
Wong, who is known as Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, worked to get more Asian Americans on screen and less stereotypical roles. Wong, who died in 1961, had a hard time finding work in Hollywood in the early 20th century.
This was during the “yellowface” era, when white people put on makeup and costumes to play Asian roles, and when “anti-miscegenation” laws made it illegal for people of different races to get together.
Her parts were full of racial stereotypes, and she was paid too little. In Daughter of the Dragon, she got $6,000 for the lead role, while Warner Oland got $12,000 for barely being in the first 23 minutes. Marlene Dietrich made $78,166, while Wong got $6,000 for Shanghai Express.
Wong moved to Europe after being treated badly because of his race in Hollywood. There, he acted in movies in English, French, and German. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1933, she said she was tired of playing different roles in Hollywood.
“Why is it that the Chinese person on screen is almost always the bad guy, and such a cruel, sneaky, snake-in-the-grass bad guy?” she inquired. “We’re not like that.”
Wong worked on more than 60 movies, most of which were silent. In 1960, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Between 2022 and 2025, the United States Mint’s American Women Quarters Program will honor five important women in American history each year. This year, Wong is on the fifth coin that was made.
At its plants in Philadelphia and Denver, the US Mint plans to make more than 300 million Wong quarters. Director of Mint Ventris Gibson said of Wong that she was a “courageous campaigner” who fought for Asian Americans to have more roles and parts with more depth.
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On the back of each coin, there will be a close-up picture of Wong with her head in her hand. On the front, there will be a picture of George Washington by 20th-century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, who was the first woman to design a U.S. coin in 1921.
This year, the program also featured poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, the first female major chief of the Cherokee Nation.