Early Film Star Anna May Wong Becomes First Asian American on US Currency

From the American Women Quarters Program

anna may wong us currency quarters american women us mint

Anna May Wong, the groundbreaking actor who starred in silent films before conquering talkies in three languages, has become the first Asian American to appear on US Currency.

Wong joins Maya Angelou, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, and women’s rights leader Nina Otero-Warren in appearing in the US Mint’s American Women Quarters Program. The four-year set launched earlier this year, and the Mint will begin shipping the quarters honoring Wong 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.”

Born Wong Liu-tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles, Wong achieved international recognition after appearing in 1921’s The Toll of the Sea, a film loosely based on the opera Madame Butterfly. She helped to popularize the flapper style, and recorded her first talking picture, 1930’s The Toll of Love, in English, French, and German.

In 1928, she moved to Germany to escape racism at home and star in German-language pictures, but returned two years later after an offer from Paramount Pictures. Starting in the ’30s, she refused to play stereotypically evil Chinese characters, and used her growing celebrity to fight against bigotry both on and off screen. In a 1933 essay, she wrote, “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain? And so crude a villain ― murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that is so many times older than the West?”

Wong appears on the reverse (tails) side of the quarter, encircled in dots meant to evoke shimmering lights. Like all of the other quarters in the series, the obverse (heads) side features a portrait of George Washington.

“Many prominent actors from the 1920s and 1930s saw their name framed by lightbulbs on movie theater marquees, so I thought it made sense to feature Anna May Wong in this way,” Emily Damstra, designer of the quarter, said in a statement. “Along with the hard work, determination, and skill Anna May Wong brought to the profession of acting, I think it was her face and expressive gestures that really captivated movie audiences, so I included these elements next to her name.”


Follow Consequence