Do you know the woman who was considered to be the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood?
Her name was Anna May Wong, and she made history in the film industry.
Anna was born in 1905 in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles, California. Her birth name was Wong Liu Tsong, and she was one of eight children in her family. Eventually, she was given the English name Anna May.
As a young kid, Anna was sent to a public school where she and her sister were constantly harassed and bullied because of their race. It got so bad that she had to transfer schools and finally felt safe at the Chinese Mission School in Chinatown.
In school, Anna studied English and Cantonese but excelled in speaking English. She worked at her parents’ laundromat and became interested in movies growing up. Anna would use her money from working at the laundromat to buy movie tickets and would visit film sets near her home as often as possible.
In 1919, when she was 14 years old, she responded to a casting call for extras for the film The Red Lantern. She got a role as an extra and carried around a lantern in one of the film’s scenes. Although it wasn’t a major film debut, it catalyzed her career.
While still attending school, Anna took on more film roles as an extra and began auditioning for whatever she could. Finally, in 1921, she dropped out of high school to begin acting full-time and started going by the name Anna May Wong.
By the time she was 17, Anna had landed her first leading role in the silent drama film The Toll of the Sea, which was one of the first American films to be made in Technicolor.
Although she was making a name for herself, Anna often had to deal with racial stereotyping and racist policies in the American film industry. For example, she was making films during an era when interracial actors were not allowed to kiss on screen.
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