Anna May Wong: Biography Of The First Ever Chinese-American Movie Star

By Cyn Felthousen-Post
1939: Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong (1907 - 1961), stage name of Wong Liu Tsong, in a scene from the film 'Island Of Lost Men', directed by Kurt Neumann for Paramount. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Hollywood story of Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress in the '20s and '30s, was bound to be frustrating. Due to the inherent racism of the time, she was offered supporting roles at best, or villainous, stereotypical "dragon lady" parts. It's not that Hollywood didn't make movies with major Asian characters -- it's just that leading roles in those films went to white actresses. Wong kept at it, though, and got to share the screen with such cinematic legends as Lon Chaney (Outside The Law, 1920), Douglas Fairbanks (The Thief Of Bagdad, 1928), and Anthony Quinn (Dangerous To Know, 1938). 

The prejudice Wong felt wasn't always passive-aggressive -- it's hard to cast a female lead who isn't allowed to kiss her co-star. At the time, there was a ban on interracial kissing on screen. It's a ludicrous concept today, but even then Wong was trying to speak out against such narrowmindedness.

"I can’t for the life of me understand why a white man couldn’t fall in love with me on the screen…without breaking some terrible censorship law," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "What is the difference between a white girl playing an Oriental and a real Oriental, like myself, playing them? ... I would at least look the part, where the white girls definitely do not. If it were possible to overcome this terrible censorship barrier, a new field would open for me, giving endless chances to act in good parts. I don’t want to play white girls, but I do think I should have the chance to play the roles that are mine by rights."