Life Story: Anna May Wong (1905–1961)

The First Asian American Movie Star

The story of a Chinese American woman who achieved international fame as a film actor despite racism and stereotyping.

Content Warning: This life story contains a racial slur.

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong, 1928. Everett Collection

Chinatown Charlie

Chinatown Charlie, Anna May Wong, 1928. Everett Collection

Anna May Wong Identification Card

Anna May Wong Identification Card, August 1924. National Archives and Records Administration, San Francisco.

Suggested Activities

  • Learn more about the experiences of Chinese Americans by pairing this life story with the resources in Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion
  • Pair Anna May Wong’s life story with that of Edith Maude Eaton, who reported on the lives of Chinese Americans during the Progressive Era.
  • Have students analyze the three different images of Anna presented here. How does each portray a different aspect of her life? Pair these images with others, include the flapper magazine covers and flapper photographs to deepen the conversation. 
  • Anna May Wong was not the only actress of color who played offensive roles in order to have a career. Encourage students to research Hattie MacDaniel, Lupe Velez, and Dolores del Rio to broaden the conversation. How did each actress pursue her career and deal with these challenges? 
  • Compare Anna May Wong’s life story with current discussions about Asian American actors today. Show students examples of the media surrounding Crazy Rich Asians or the yellowface controversy around the movie Aloha. 
  • Yellowface is not limited to the movies. After learning about this issue through Anna May Wong’s life story, encourage students to visit the website to learn how performing artists today are tackling yellowface in the performing arts. 



Source Notes