Anna May Wong: The First Asian American Hollywood Actress


Photo credit: Oprah Daily

Wong Liu Tsong, who was popularly knowns as Anna May Wong was the first Asian-American actress in the history of Hollywood. She was a Chinese-American born in Los Angeles, California. She grew up near Chinatown together with her family where they experienced endless racism attacks. Anna May Wong was eleven years old when she started dreaming of being a Hollywood actress.

She studied in a public school in LA where she experienced a full-time racism horror, not just verbally but also physically. She confessed that pinching and slapping were just some of the physical attacks that Asian Americans need to survive every day— daily torture that they need to endure.

Anna May Wong was very serious about achieving her dream career. She often skipped school to attend theater and shoot sets. At the young age of 14, she was able to become an extra in her first movie role in the 1919 film “The Red Lantern”. She then decided to drop out of high school to pursue her acting career. Wong was eventually cast in more prominent roles where she was stereotyped as an exotic and temptress. Her first leading role was in the silent film “The Troll of the Sea” in 1922. It was her biggest break as she continued to receive offerings thanks to the success of the film. However, the actress was greatly unpaid compared to the other actors (leading or supporting roles) amidst her growing acting career due to the continuous stereotyping.

Despite the mistreatment and lack of awareness in regard to inequality, Anna May Wong did not hesitate to speak out about her experiences as an Asian American living in a western country. She would also boldly share how the Chinese in China disown her and even called her “a female traitor to China” and labeled her as an American actress claiming that Wong forgets her Asian roots. This does not stop the rising actress as she moved to Berlin and enter the European film industry where she gained global success.

Amidst the criticisms, the actress continued to shock everyone with her perseverance in changing the image of Asian Americans in the film industry from a villain role to a role that is worthy of the spotlight. She became not just the first Asian American movie actress, but also the first Asian-American to appear on national television. It was believed that her nonstop achievements became the turning point for American audiences to finally see Asian Americans as part of their society.

Anna May Wong was the role model for many Asian Americans in being openly critical; bold, fearless, and unbothered by the judgments of the society. She lived a life where she did not let the mistreatment of being a Chinese American living in a western society hinders her to live the life she want to have.


Written by: Yam Pernecita

Yam Pernecita is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. She is a 4th-year Bachelor of Arts in Communication student from Far Eastern University in Manila, Philippines.

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