U.S. coin honors pioneering Asian American actress

Anna May Wong, a Chinese American actress whose career cleared a path for people of Asian descent in Hollywood, is joining the ranks of great American women honored on U.S. currency.

Celebrated as Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, Wong earned her first lead role in 1922, launching a career that spanned decades and more than 60 movies, including silent films and color features, as well as theater and television.

Lucy Liu, the star of movies including Charlie’s Angels, has cited Wong as an inspiration and called her a “pioneer” for Asian Americans in film. “I was lucky that trailblazers like Anna May Wong and Bruce Lee came before me,” Liu said when she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2019. Wong received her walk of fame star in 1960, before her death in 1961.

Image on U.S. quarter of Anna May Wong resting her chin on her hand next to her name (U.S. Mint)
Actress Anna May Wong on a U.S. quarter coin (U.S. Mint)

The U.S. Mint is honoring Wong as part of its American Women Quarters Program, which celebrates the contributions of heroic women and America’s multicultural heritage. The quarter dollar coins featuring Wong began shipping October 24. The quarter, the first featuring an Asian American, reflects the breadth of Wong’s accomplishments in film and society.

Wong was “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors,” U.S. Mint Director Ventris Gibson said.

Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood in 1905, Wong’s parents also gave her an English name, Anna May.

She began acting in films in 1919, at age 14, and earned a leading role in The Toll of the Sea in 1922. With a starring role in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong in 1951, Wong became the first Asian American lead in a U.S. television show.

Though third-generation American, Wong faced discrimination and limited roles in film and television.

“In the face of adversity, she kept going and became an internationally renowned actress,” said U.S. Representative Ted Lieu of California. “She is remembered not only as a great actress, but also as an advocate for increased representation of Asian Americans in film and media.”

Wong is the fifth woman to grace U.S. quarters as part of the American Women Quarters Program, which will feature as many as five new women each year through 2025. Other women already featured through the program are writer Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller, and suffrage movement leader Nina Otero-Warren.