Who was Anna May Wong? Pioneering actress becomes first Asian American to be featured on US currency

Who was Anna May Wong? Pioneering actress becomes first Asian American to be featured on US currency
Anna May Wong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 (Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/ The US Mint via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Anna May Wong is all set to appear on a circulating coin in the US. The Chinese American movie star will appear on the reverse side of the quarter as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The actress who passed away in 1961, will be the fifth woman to be honored this year under the program.

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As part of the program, overseen by the United States Mint, women who have contributed to the development and history of the country through their work in fields like suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts will be honored by having their faces grace US currency.

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Apart from Wong, poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller, and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren will feature on the coin, with a right-facing portrait of George Washington on the front.

American film star, Anna May Wong (1905 - 1961) poses with a cut rose.
American film star, Anna May Wong (1905 - 1961) poses with a cut rose. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

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The US Mint is set to release five new coins in the series each year. While speaking to Insider, a spokesperson said, "It matters to have women on US currency because our currency should reflect our nation and the stories of our American people," adding, "Women have made great contributions to our country and it is vital that we recognize those contributions on our coinage."

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(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Mint, a new US quarter dollar is seen featuring, Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. The quarter is part of the American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program, The U.S. Mint has begun minting the first of 20 quarters honoring selected American women through 2025.
(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Mint, a new US quarter dollar is seen featuring, Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. The quarter is part of the American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program, The U.S. Mint has begun minting the first of 20 quarters honoring selected American women through 2025. (Photo by the U.S. Mint via Getty Images)

The spokesperson added that there will be 320 million quarters released per honoree to be distributed all over the country. To purchase it, people can go to the US Mint website or request them from their local bank and credit union.

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Michele Selene Ang, a Chinese American actor and filmmaker, who has watched Anna May Wong's films and takes inspiration from the late actor's craft, told Insider, "I think her life is a great example of incredible bravery and resourcefulness," adding, "She found ways to grow outside of the American studio system as an artist and as a woman."

Anna May Wong's career

Wong's varied career spanned silent film, sound film, television, stage, and radio. Born in Los Angeles to second-generation Taishanese Chinese-American parents, Wong became interested with films and began acting at an early age.

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During the silent film era, she acted in 'The Toll of the Sea' (1922) and in Douglas Fairbanks' 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924). Known as a fashion icon, she received widespread international recognition in 1924. In 1934, she was voted as the "world's best dressed woman" by Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York.

Frustrated by the stereotypical nature of Hollywood, Wong left for Europe in March 1928, where she starred in popoular plays and films, among them 'Piccadilly' (1929). Wong also featured in films of the early sound era, such as 'Daughter of the Dragon' (1931), 'Java Head' (1934), 'Daughter of Shanghai' (1937), and with Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg's 'Shanghai Express' (1932).

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Wong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. On February 3, 1961, at the age of 56, the actress died of a heart attack.

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