Hand me the change

The US Mint gave Hollywood legend Anna May Wong long overdue recognition

The pioneering actor will be the first Asian American to grace a US coin
The US Mint's design for the new quarter featuring Anna May Wong, as part of the American Women Quarters Program.
The US Mint's design for the new quarter featuring Anna May Wong, as part of the American Women Quarters Program.
Image: United States Mint
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Hollywood icon Anna May Wong is about to become the first Asian American to be featured on US currency.

The US Mint has announced the pioneering actor will feature on 25 cent coins due to roll into general circulation on Monday (Oct. 24).

Wong, considered the first Chinese American movie star, had a decades-long career that spanned across theater, television, radio, and over 60 films.

The new quarter is one of five being released in 2022 to recognize the achievements of American women in various fields. Earlier this year, the US Mint issued coins featuring writer Maya Angelou, astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, Native American activist Wilma Mankiller, and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren.

US treasury secretary Janet Yellen, who helped select Anna May Wong as an honoree as part of the Mint’s American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program, said: “I’m proud that these quarters honor women from diverse communities who have made remarkable contributions to the history of America, including a trailblazer like Anna May Wong.”

The AWQ Program will continue releasing five new coins a year through 2025.

How Anna May Wong broke barriers in a racist film industry 

Born in 1905 into a family of second-generation Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles, Wong dreamed of becoming an actor as early as 11 years old, and was cast in her first-ever role as an extra in The Red Lantern at the age of 14.

She would go on to appear in one of the first movies ever made in Technicolor, The Toll of the Sea, and become the first Asian American to lead a US TV show in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong. Wong attained these achievements while navigating a racist and sexist industry whose Orientalist tropes often boxed Asian women into roles as either docile sexual objects or deviant femme fatales—the so-called dragon lady. 

Wong was an outspoken critic of racism in the movie industry. In a 1933 interview she said: “I was so tired of the parts I had to play. Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain—murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass. We are not like that.”

In one notable incident, studio MGM passed over Wong to play a Chinese character named O-Lan, a lead role for a film adaptation of The Good Earth, opting instead for German actor Luise Rainer to star in the picture wearing yellowface. Rainer would later win the Oscar for Best Actress in that role.

Sick of discrimination in the US, Wong charted her own course, eventually moving to Europe where she made a splash starring in British, French, and German films. In 1960, one year before she died, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


“The fifth coin in our American Women Quarters Program honors Anna May Wong, a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors. 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.” – Ventris C. Gibson, US Mint director

A brief history of Anna May Wong’s film career

1919: Wong lands her first on-screen role as an extra in The Red Lantern.

1922: The Toll of the Sea, a silent film and the second-ever Technicolor film, is released starring Wong as Lotus Flower.

1924: The role of “Mongol slave” in The Thief of Baghdad propels Wong to international fame.

1931: Wong stars as Ling Moy alongside Japanese star Sessue Hayakawa and Fu Manchu caricature actor Warner Oland in Daughter of the Dragon.

1932: Wong features in a lead role alongside Marlene Dietrich and Clive Brook in Shanghai Express, which would go on to be nominated for the Best Picture award at the Oscars.

1951: Wong plays a Chinese detective in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, becoming the first Asian American to play the lead in a US TV show.

1960: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is placed in honor of Anna May Wong’s remarkable career.

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