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Who Is Anna May Wong? Meet the Asian American Movie Star Who Just Made U.S. History The old-Hollywood movie star will be the first Asian American to be on U.S. currency.

By Sam Silverman

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The first U.S. currency to feature an Asian American will soon be found in your change.

Anna May Wong, who is noted to be the first Asian American movie star and a fierce advocate for representation in cinema, is set to appear on the U.S. quarter as part of the U.S. Mint's American Women Quarters Program, which celebrates five women in American history each year from 2022 to 2025.

Shipment of the Wong coin will begin on October 24, according to a press release for the U.S Mint.

"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," Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said in the release, explaining why Wong was selected for the honor. "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."

Wong's face will be laminated on over 300 million quarters, according to The New York Times, and for good reason. She's the fifth female trailblazer-inspired coin to be released this year. Others included Maya Angelou, Sally Ride, Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller.

Who Is Anna May Wong?

Anna May Wong is considered to be the first Asian American movie star. She has 60 films under her belt and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Still, finding her way to the big screen was no easy feat during a time when it was acceptable for white actors to portray Asian characters and stereotypes.

She notably spoke out about racism in Hollywood in a 1933 interview with the Los Angeles Times: "Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain — murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that."

Explaining how the Asian portrayal was so off from the actual culture that highly values a "rigid code of behavior" and virtues, she continued, "Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill? I got so weary of it all--of the scenarist's concept of Chinese characters. You remember Fu Manchu? Daughter of the Dragon? So wicked."

Apart from being typecast, she was wildly underpaid. Despite being the lead in Daughter of the Dragon, she only earned $6,000, while her costars earned between $10,000 to $12,000, according to Time.

She was also paid $6,000 for her work in Shanghai Express while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166.

Following the injustice she faced in the American film industry, she moved to Europe and worked on foreign projects, but eventually found her way back to the states.

She even tried working in China, but since she never married or had children, she struggled to fit into the culture that highly valued family, saying, "It's a pretty sad situation to be rejected by Chinese because I'm 'too American' and by American producers, because they prefer other races to act Chinese parts," according to The Guardian.

What Was Anna May Wong's Cause of Death?

According to Anna May Wong's biography, the actress died at the age of 56 on February 3, 1961.

She died of a heart attack while in Santa Monica, California. Prior to her death, Wong had a years-long struggle with liver disease.

What Was Anna May Wong's Net Worth?

It's unclear exactly how much Anna May Wong was worth at her time of death, however, various websites estimate her fortune to be around $1.5 million.

According to her official will, Wong owned property in California and London. She left her jewelry, furs, and $5,000 to her sister and the remainder of her estate to her brother Richard Wong. However, her three other brothers were omitted from the will, stating she provided for them throughout her life allowing them to be self-sufficient.

Sam Silverman

Content Strategy Editor

Sam Silverman is a content strategy editor at Entrepreneur Media. She specializes in search engine optimization (SEO), and her work can be found in The US Sun, Nicki Swift, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style and Health. She writes for our news team with a focus on investigating scandals. Her coverage and expertise span from business news, entrepreneurship, technology, and true crime, to the latest in entertainment and TV news. Sam is a graduate of Lehigh University and currently resides in NYC. 

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