HomeChinese AmericanAnna May Wong's legacy honored in new exhibit

Anna May Wong’s legacy honored in new exhibit

The Chinese American Museum in Downtown Los Angeles has recently opened up an exhibit dedicated to Anna May Wong, the legendary Asian American actress and trailblazer, and Hollywood’s first Chinese American film star.

The new exhibit, ‘Unmasking Anna May Wong’, will be open to the public beginning Friday and will be running until Jan. 26 2025. It seeks to showcase the actress’s work on and off-screen, her personal life, and her pride as a third-generational Chinese American.

Wong made her debut in the 1920s, starring in silent films, first being The Toll of the Sea (1922). She eventually took on English-speaking leads in European films, as well as theatre and television roles over the next decade. She starred in over 60 films, but she often faced racism and sexism throughout her career. In addition, she was often typecasted as ‘China dolls’ and ‘dragon ladies’ in productions. Despite these obstacles, Wong is looked back upon as a groundbreaker who both broke barriers on-screen and paves the way for other Asian Americans off-screen.

Some of Wong’s most notable work includes Shanghai Express (1932), The Flame of Love (1930), and Hai Tang (1930). In 1951, she became the first Asian American lead actress in the television series The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a year before her passing in 1961.

The exhibit was co-curated by Katie Gee Salisbury, author of Not Your China Doll, a biography detailing Wong’s life.

“We wanted to highlight her life and career. (Wong) was a trailblazer, an early pioneer in Hollywood. She was seen during a time when there was really almost no one else like her”, Salisbury said in an interview with the Daily Breeze. “So we’re paying homage to her in that sense. This exhibition is really a chance for us to look backwards and see where things started.”

Salisbury also said that with the rising success of Asians and Asian Americans in Hollywood in recent years, such as Michelle Yeoh winning an Oscar in 2023, it was appropriate to highlight another actress who also “had to deal with so many hurdles”.

Unmasking Anna Mae Wong
via Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles

Salisbury added that “2024 is the Year of the Dragon and Wong was born in the Year of the Dragon, so she is a dragon…It’s perfect timing for people to get to know her.”.

Interest in Wong’s work and life has also grown over the years. She became the first Asian American to be featured on U.S. currency, which was a part of the American Woman Quarters Program. An upcoming biopic about Wong starring Gemma Chan and written by playwright David Henry Hwang is also in the works.

The exhibit itself features a variety of different items on display. These range from film posters, clips, and photographs, some of Wong’s gowns and some items outside of work. Some of Wong’s personal items, courtesy of her family, will also be on display, such as family photos, a mahjong set, and a jewelry box.

The Chinese American Museum can be found on 425 N. Los Angeles St. in Downtown Los Angeles and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are free and reservations can be made at camla.org.

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