Trailblazing Hollywood film star Anna Wong to be first Asian-American to appear on U.S. currency

On Monday, Oct. 24, the U.S. Mint will begin shipping a new quarter featuring Hollywood trailblazer Anna Wong. It's the fifth coin in the Mint's American Women Quarters Program.  (U.S. Mint)

Widely considered the first Chinese-American movie star in Hollywood, Anna May Wong will be recognized for another first: She'll be the first Asian-American to be featured on a U.S. currency.

On Monday, the U.S. Mint planned to begin shipping out a new quarter featuring Wong, as part of the Mint's ongoing American Women Quarters Program.

The Mint described the trailblazing star of stage and screen as a "courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors." 

Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said, "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."

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Her quarter featured a close-up image of Wong, with her head resting on her hand. The outer edge of the coin was dotted to represent the bright lights of a marquee sign, with her name inscribed next to her face.   

The U.S. Mint will begin shipping the Anna May Wong quarter on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. The coin is the fifth in the American Women Quarter Program. Wong is considered the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.

"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," said Mint Artistic Infusion Program designer Emily Damstra. "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," Damstra added. 

Wong rose to fame during Hollywood's golden age with a career that included work in television, theater, and more than 60 films. 

Born in Los Angeles on January 3, 1905, she got her first on-screen job when she was only 14-years-old as an extra in the film "The Red Lantern." 

She continued to take on small roles as extras until she landed her first leading role in the 1922 film "The Toll of the Sea." 

Wong continued to break barriers in the industry also becoming the first Asian-American lead actor in a U.S. television show for her role in "The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong" in 1951. 

Wong's strides were great, but the barriers remained so too in Hollywood, so she went oversees to act, later becoming the first Chinese-American movie star to gain international recognition. 

circa 1935: American film star, Anna May Wong (1905 - 1961) poses with a cut rose. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"After facing constant discrimination in Hollywood, Wong traveled to Europe and worked in English, German, and French films. She also appeared in productions on the London and New York stages," the Mint said.

Wong received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the year before she died at the age of 56. 

The Anna Wong quarter will be the fifth released this year under the four-year American Women Quarters Program, made possible by a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

Five new coins will be released each year as part of the program, which was launched earlier this year. 

"The trail she blazed paved the way for a Hollywood that better reflects the brilliance & diversity of our country. I’m grateful to honor her with the American Women Quarters program," Lee shared on Facebook on Tuesday.

Writer and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou was the first to be featured as part of the program. The three other women that followed were astronaut and physicist Dr. Sally Ride, Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, and Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement. 

In January, the Mint will begin producing quarters featuring the next five honorees: Bessie Coleman, Edith Kanakaʻole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idar, and Maria Tallchief.