Anna May Wong Becomes First Asian American on US Currency

Anna May Wong, the pioneering actor who featured in silent films before going on to dominate talkies in three languages, has become the first Asian American to appear on US currency.

Anna May Wong

In the US Mint’s American Women Quarters Program, Wong joins Maya Angelou, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, and women’s rights advocate Nina Otero-Warren. The four-year set was released earlier this year, and the quarters honoring Wong will begin delivering on October 24th.

“The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” said Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson. “This quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments by Anna May Wong, who overcame challenges and obstacles she faced during her lifetime.”

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Who is Anna May Wong?

Wong Liu-tsong, born in Los Angeles in 1905, rose to international prominence after playing in 1921’s The Toll of the Sea, a film largely based on the opera Madame Butterfly. She popularized the flapper look and recorded her first talking picture, The Toll of Love, in English, French, and German in 1930.

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She fled to Germany in 1928 to avoid bigotry at home and to star in German-language films, but she returned two years later after receiving an offer from Paramount Pictures. She refused to play stereotypically wicked Chinese roles beginning in the 1930s, and she utilized her growing reputation to oppose racism both on and off screen. “Why is it that the film Chinese is nearly always the villain?” she wondered in a 1933 essay.

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