Kimono aren’t cosplay

Don’t do it y’all, just don’t do it.

In about two weeks it’s Anime Boston, one of my favorite things ever in the city. Anime fans from all over are spotted across the city in different styles of cosplay, earning weird (almost scared) looks from normal people everywhere. I love cosplay, both wearing it and photographing it. But there’s one trend, specifically in the anime community, that needs to stop: wearing a kimono as a costume. AKA: cultural appropriation. Continue reading

I love “Mulan” more as an adult than I ever did as a kid

A while back I was browsing through the YA section at Barnes and Noble and a bright red cover featuring Disney’s Mulan caught my eye. The book was Reflection, one of the special Disney-official fan fiction series Twisted Tale that includes spins on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and my girl Mulan. I didn’t end up buying it that day, but I checked it out from the library recently and it was as much fun as I could have hoped Mulan fan fiction––written by a Chinese American, Elizabeth Lim––to be. Continue reading

All my social media thoughts after seeing “Crazy Rich Asians”

I saw an early screening and it totally convinced me the hype is valid.

So hardly a week or so ago, I wrote a big think-piece essay blog type thing about how skeptical I am about my expectations for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie. Looking back, I’ve written a lot about this movie: a satirical dream cast, a presentation about the pressure it’s under, and that last post about hyping it on blind faith. Continue reading

Hyping “Crazy Rich Asians” on blind faith

I’m looking forward to this movie, right?

Every time I see the movie poster for the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie, I have to stop and take a photo of it for the ‘gram. I’ve seen the trailer so many times I know when all the claps happen. While waiting for a flight, I wandered around LAX looking for the special Entertainment Weekly cover with Constance Wu and Henry Golding. I bought the book a second time just for the paperback copy with the movie cover on it.

And I didn’t even like the book. Continue reading

The most empowering Olympics

The Asian American Athletes at Pyeongchang give me life.

(This was originally posted on the editorial blog of the East Coast Asian American Student Union, read it here.)

I live for the Olympic games every two to four years, ever since the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony changed my life. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremonies, athlete profiles, and feats of human strength always draw me in and rule my life for the next two and a half weeks. This year’s winter games in PyeongChang are no different. In fact my obsession has only been heightened by the amazing Asian American athletes competing this year. Continue reading

“Crazy Rich Asians” y’all

A presentation on the upcoming movie, and the intense pressure around it.

A while back, my friend asked me to give a presentation on anything, as long as it had something to do with books. I had 0 ideas, but got inspired by the special Entertainment Weekly edition of Crazy Rich Asians, so I decided to talk about every reader’s favorite topic: book to movie adaptations.

It went pretty well, and I ended up having a lot of fun making my slides. So for fun, and because I have a lot of thoughts about the upcoming movie, I’ll share them and my speaking notes here.
(I should note that the event was hosted by one of my school’s publishing clubs, hence the literary event references.)

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It all comes down to representation. You can read a book and know in your head that this whole cast looks like you, reflects your family and culture. But it’s a completely different experience when you see it, especially in a mainstream format like a Hollywood movie. I’ll let the professionals explain it better:

Plus, all the other major movies with Asian American casts came from books: The Joy Luck Club premiered in 1993. Memoirs of a Geisha premiered in 2005, and it only made the list because it’s one of the few mainstream American movies with an entirely Asian and Asian American cast. The book was written by a white man and there’s a number of conversations about the validity of Memoirs. Not going to lie, it’s pretty problematic, but the movie soundtrack was really good. Fresh Off the Boat aired in 2015, and even though it’s not a movie it was a big deal in recent pop culture. After the second season it split off from Eddie Huang’s life story, and I think it’s become a better show for it. Would not recommend the book, to be honest.

And finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for: Crazy Rich Asians. Release date: August 17, 2018. As the third major movie, and following “Fresh Off the Boat,” CRA has to be a verifiable box office success. Because if it “fails,” studios will use it as an example to affirm all the old stereotypes and misconceptions about casting Asians in movies and telling their own stories.
And if this fails, publishers might not pick up as many books by Asian authors because clearly if Crazy Rich did poorly, there’s no mass market for our stories.

…To be honest, the book wasn’t that good. It switches points of view between a lot of characters, Kwan uses footnotes as personal asides which can take you out of the world he’s writing about, and a lot of the drama is so rich it feels a little unrelatable.
So I’m scared that this movie will be bad — and it can’t afford to be.

I believe that if CRA does well, then that gives the first nudge for others to follow. And there are so many others that can follow. Including 2 more books in the Crazy Rich Asians series! Movies, mini series, TV shows, Netflix originals — we’re at peak media right now, and of course that comes from books leading the way. And no matter what movie comes out, the book is always better, so more movies will lead to more book sales — right? That’s how that works?

And look at this cast! Don’t you want to support this cast?

This is journalism goals with Lisa Ling

Exploring America with one of my favorite journalists.

I’d heard about the Taiwanese American journalist Lisa Ling, and in high school I read the book she co-wrote with her sister Laura — Somewhere Inside — about Laura’s captivity in North Korea. Both the sisters became huge inspirations and role models to me as journalists, women, and Asian Americans. So when I saw CNN put all of Lisa Ling’s series This is Life on Hulu, I knew how I was spending my weekend.

This Is Life is somewhat in the same vein as Ling’s previous series on OWN, Our America, where in both she travels around the country to different communities to talk to people and learn more about their lives. With CNN she’s talked to the Satanic Temple, the Mongol biker gang, explored the heroine and opiate epidemics, legal prostitution, and more. Ling really sheds a light on interesting and under explored people and groups in America, with a mix of understanding and genuine curiosity. I would say genuine objectivity, but often times Ling will say in brief self-recorded cut aways how she feels about each topic so people watching get a sense of how her thoughts change as the story goes on.

As a journalist who wants to write, watching Ling’s series is my own little crash course in how video journalism is done. Everything from her transitions, voice overs, and and the way she she talks during interviews is all about telling the complete story of these people. It’s an outsider’s point of view, but not in the exploitative, “Whoa, look at these weirdos!” kind of way. When I watch, I can see Ling trying to enter every new space with an open mind, her training as a journalist coming through to humanize the story and ask the long-term questions. Every episode isn’t the definitive nutshell for every case and person, but just a passing glimpse at a community you never knew about or had preconceived notions about.

Watching Ling tackle difficult stories and situations, like seeing a heroine addict shoot up, talking to survivors of abuse, or fathers in prison really shows the depth of a reporter’s understanding and investment in a story. She’s not afraid to cry, show she’s a little unnerved, or worried about the situation she’s in. This style of raw embed speaks more to the story than any classic journalistic objectivity ever could. You feel like you’re there with the people, and Ling, as events unfold. You feel like you understand, just a little bit more than before, what their life is like.

I’ve looked up to Ling and her journalism style since high school, and seeing a face like mine as a prominent journalist has been a big motivator throughout college. Right now, Hulu has three seasons of This is Life, and each one is only eight episodes. She’s filming season 5 right now, and I’m excited to see where she goes across the states, who she meets, and the stories she’ll tell.

We Own the 8th: Where Fandom Meets Community

The place for Asian American artists to meet and collaborate.

New media changed the divide between creators and fans, as the ease to create content and give it a home online started a generation of artists with the ability to connect with fans on a more accessible level. New media also opens more opportunities to give voice to communities not represented in the mainstream, seen notably in Lost Angeles, Asian American artists. In this sprawling city, creators meet to network within the community at a number of different professional organizations, but one unique place encourages Asian American artists to come together as a community.

We Own the 8th, defined as an artists collective for Asian Americans, is a small network of different creatives who meet once a month in downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 2013 by actor Dante Basco, spoken word artist Beau Sia, and musician AJ Rafael, We Own the 8th is a way for Asian Americans to come together as a gathering place for the community. Monthly meetings at The Great Company, a studio and events space in the LA arts district, can feature a panel discussion, film screenings, special guest speakers, workshops, and more. Meetings feature guests from various disciplines, and people who come vary from artists established in their careers, others just starting out in the media, or supportive friends and fans.

“A lot of people come in because their friend told them that is was an awesome thing,” Rafael said. “It used to be a thing that me, Dante, and Beau as a select few would bring in people directly. We’re not doing a lot of marketing for it, I love organic growth.”

On average, at least a few dozen people attend each month’s meeting, enjoying the Great Company’s spacious rooms. The main room usually has a cooler of sodas for people to buy and some free snacks sit out on a high bar. At 7 P.M., one of the founders will open the set of wooden double doors leading in to the main room, laid out like a casual concert at someone’s home. In front of the room stands a small stage about a foot or two off the ground, beaten up couches take up the first two rows of seats, and behind that are rows of foldable plastic chairs.

A large white projection screen stands as the backdrop to the stage for films, shorts, music videos, or other presentations and the projector sits on a stand amidst the couches. The low yellow lights, couches, and minimal stage set up give the whole room a comfortable, open mic feel to every meeting. Most meetings open with a short song from a musician known locally or opening remarks introducing the night’s featured artist before starting the official event of the night.

“The idea of owning something like the eighth of the month is that in the community at large, everybody can come up for you and you can promote for everybody,” Dante Basco said. “That could be a big leveraging point for the community, having this idea that we own a day of the month when we can put out product.”

After spending over thirty years in the industry, Basco understands the inherent racism and other barriers Asian Americans, especially Filipino Americans like himself, experience working in Hollywood. Basco spent most of his early career working in black Hollywood, and admired that community of entertainers working together to create shows, promote others works, and network. He said that after many auditions and roles that didn’t sit well with him, he began to wonder why that same system didn’t exist for Asian American actors. He started thinking how he could create that space for not only the YouTube creators in new media, but for all of pop culture. He reached out to Sia, Rafael, and the founder of the Great Company Carl Choi, and they started talking about why Asian Americans are the least represented in the media. Together they began an open forum for artists to bridge new and traditional media, with no official meeting place or name in mind. Choi had recently opened the Great Company and offered to host the first meeting, and they by chance ended up meeting on the eighth.

The first meetings were not the same format as current ones, instead more focused on group discussions than a featured project. The board would bring in a keynote speaker and sit in a circle to discuss their projects or give ideas of what We Own the 8th could be in the future. As attendees grew after about a year and a half, the format of meetings started to change into the current structure of a produced event with a sharper focus. The founders knew they wanted to incorporate the eighth of the month for its significance in Chinese culture — the pronunciation of it (bā) sounding similar to prosperity (fā) — and originally tossed around names like Eight Asians. They came up with “We Own the 8th” as a way for the community to claim the day, the one day of the month audiences could expect something to come from Asian American artists.

Every We Own the 8th meeting shows how close the artists and the audience feel, not only in proximity but also in how the ways new media broke down the barriers between fans and celebrity. Especially with YouTube creators like bloggers, musicians, comedians, and short filmmakers, the idea of “they’re just like us” gives creates an atmosphere of approachability that We Own the 8th makes the most of every month. Meetings, no matter who the featured guest may be, focus on the craft instead of the fandom. Rafael says the largest crowd he’s seen at The 8th was for Randall Park, Louis Huang on ABC’s “Fresh Off Boat,” and even then the panel focused more on the importance of representation in the media instead of a fan meet-and-greet. Both Basco and Rafael have their own fan followings as well, Rafael with 638 thousand YouTube subscribers on his channel and Basco has 61 thousand subscribers. However they don’t try to actively promote We Own the 8th to those fans and instead focus on finding artists to create projects and build the community.

“It’s a big potluck with a purpose,” Minji Chang, a member of the We Own the 8th Directors Board and the Executive Director of Asian American non-profit organization Kollaboration, said. “They developed a core group that really works hard, I’m not even talking about the board, I’m talking about people within the collective who keep the fire alive, keep project going. This is very LA industry-focused, a place for people to learn, a place where they can develop a sense of identity, and find others who feel and think the same way.”

The founders appreciate the close-knit membership We Own the 8th has right now, and its reputation as a hidden gem. They can already see how meetings impact people who come often in the friends they make and in conversations about future projects together. The meeting for December featured a screening of the web series “Pretty Dudes” by YouTube channel CSRC, and the complete cast and crew are people who met at We Own the 8th.

“When I bring my personal friends over, they feel inclined to take some sort of action, whether big or small,” Rafael said. “People I tell to come because I know they’re either looking for a space, a space to meet people, or just want to be around more people of different talents, they end up meeting other creators and working together. I love seeing that happen.”

We Own the 8th is only three years old, so both Rafael and Basco say it’s still figuring itself out. The original goal of having a community that releases different projects once a month — owning the eighth — has yet to be realized as the LA community continues to grow. The founders feel that in the next few years, art and Asian American representation will start to impact more audiences outside the community, and We Own the 8th will be ready when it does.

Pride and Prejudice: I don’t want to share my princess

As Disney and Sony begin the casting process for their live-action “Mulan,” I worry that 1) She’ll be white or 2) She won’t be Chinese.

Today Disney announced the release date for its live-action Mulan, based loosely off the classic Chinese ballad and the truly classic 1998 animated movie. They announced the movie’s development late 2015, and immediately faced heavy expectations to cast the lead roles as Asian Americans — because of course the heroine of China should be Asian. But I also contend that Mulan should be Chinese.

There was so much anticipation that Disney (and now Sony’s own live-action take on Mulan) would whitewash this cast that a petition went around the internet, and gained over 90 thousand signatures. Natalie Molnar, who started the petition, wrote that “The character, story and fans deserve the best retelling of the story Disney can produce and although the film was only announced 30 March [2015] this disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can’t get a chance to take root in Mulan as well.”

After the mess that was Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange, the whole cast of The Last Airbender, and most recently Matt Damon in next year’s The Great Wall, the Asian American community isn’t taking any chances with Mulan’s casting. There have already been a number of dream cast lists circling around the internet for the perfect Mulan and now it’s only a waiting game to see what Disney and Sony do next.

In that waiting, three big names have already come up as the fan-favorites for Mulan: Constance Wu, Arden Cho, and Jamie Chung. All wonderful actresses whom I love, but none really stand out to me as my ideal Mulan. Constance Wu doesn’t strike me as the fierce warrior the same way Ming-Na Wen, the original voice actress in 1998, does. To me, Constance Wu is fierce in a different, less physical ass-kicking way (but if she does get the part I’m 110% on board). I know Jamie Chung already played Mulan on TV, but for this live-action, return-to-the-big-screen Mulan, it’s different. Because yeah, Arden Cho and Jamie Chung are totally fierce warrior types, but I don’t picture them as Mulan for one obvious (and biased) reason — they’re Korean American.

From left to right: Constance Wu, Arden Cho, and Jamie Chung.

Is it prejudiced to say that I, as a Chinese American (adoptee), don’t want a Disney-fied Chinese heroine portrayed by an amazing Korean American woman? I think it’s a bit petty and unfair. It’s just when I heard that Arden Cho was being heavily suggested for the part, I cringed. Any other role in the movie could be cast with amazing Asian Americans, but not Mulan. Which doesn’t make any sense because any other time I don’t have a problem with Asian Americans playing other Asian roles. Like Randall Park as Louis Huang — he’s doing a great job and he approached the role with respect.

“After we did the pilot, and the show got picked up … I started wondering about my place in the show. Should I be playing this father, especially as a Korean-American actor?” He told NPR in 2015. After a phone call with the real Eddie Huang who assured him was a fine Louis, Park decided to stay in the show. “As long as I come at this with respect and work as hard as I can to make sure this character is as real as I can, then it would be fine.”

And I know Arden Cho, Jamie Chung, and any other actress Chinese or not, would approach the role of Mulan with the same respect. Not only because it’s a great leading role, but also because it’s a role that means so much to the Asian American community. Every little kid in America since ’98 has grown up knowing the words to “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” I was born three years before Disney’s Mulan came out, so I’ve only ever known a world with the most kick-ass Disney heroine. When my fifteen year-old cousin, also adopted from China, told me she had never seen Mulan, you can bet we sat down right then and there for movie night. It’s a rite of passage.

But it’s not only momentous for Chinese Americans. One of my Korean American friends told me about how her babysitter took her to see it in theaters, and my friend got really excited. She kept talking about what it was like to see someone on screen who looked like her. That’s the same story I’ve heard from many of my Asian American friends, because no matter who you are as a little kid, good representation in the media matters. Mulan is a great heroine, her story is awesome, the songs are even better, and who doesn’t love Mushu? Mulan is one of Disney’s best classic animated films and for Asian American kids it also matters when a Chinese heroine is all you’re going to get.

Think of it like the rule of “there can only be one” from Masters of None. Disney has been trying to check diversity off its princess list (some sooner than others) and since we, the Asians, have Mulan that means we don’t need a Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, Burmese, Malay, Thai… another Asian princess. This November there’s the first Pacific Islander heroine, Moana, and most people (some within our own community, tbh) probably don’t even realize that Pacific Islander is the PI when we say AAPI. We had to wait nearly 18 years for another AAPI heroine, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for a more diverse Asian princess representation.

Now I have no idea how Disney or Sony is planning on going about their Mulan. NBC Asian America reported that Disney at least is “global casting search for a Chinese actress,” so I don’t know if that means they plan on going Memoirs of a Geisha-style or they’ll just end up casting Fan Bingbing. I’m of course rooting for a Chinese American actress because I think if it’s Disney’s version, the “American” is an important factor in the story. Regardless, I realize that if they cast Mulan as a non-Chinese woman, it’s not the end of days. I can be an adult 20 year old woman and share my Disney princess. Mulan is one of my favorite characters, so I’ll love whoever they cast as long as she’s written well and the movie does fans — and the story — justice.

And she’s Asian. Actually, forget everything I just wrote. Just please make sure she’s at least Asian.

Anna May Wong’s life and legacy

As a film crew sets up shop in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, a little girl watches with rapt attention. Pestering the crew with questions about the movies and hoping to end up in one, she earned herself the nickname C.C.C., Curious Chinese Child. Years later, her loitering around would pay off when a casting agent in need of Chinese extras put her on screen and launched the career of one of the most successful silent actresses and one of the first Chinese American actresses in Hollywood: Anna May Wong.

Anna May Wong’s parents owned a laundromat in the original Los Angeles Chinatown established in 1880 when it barely had a population of 10,000 people. Wong Sam Sing, Anna May’s father, was a second generation Chinese American who grew up during the tail end of the Civil War, and after his mother’s death, moved back to southern China for several years. On returning to California as a young man, Wong Sam Sing married a Chinese American woman, Lee Gon Toy. Their first daughter, Lew Ying came in 1902, and three years later they gave birth to Liu Tsong, later known as Anna May Wong. With a son and another daughter following, the Wong’s ended up moving out of Chinatown to Figueroa Street, a middle class neighborhood a few blocks from Chinatown. As the only Asian American family in a neighborhood with Mexicans, Slavs, and Germans, the children faced intense bullying at their public school. Anna May and her sister transferred to a Presbyterian Chinese school, and the family continued their laundry business.

Born in Los Angeles as a third-generation Chinese American, school was not Anna May Wong’s top priority. She loved the “flickers” that played in Nickelodeons, and whatever spare change she earned would go straight to movie tickets. On more than once occasion she skipped school to go see the movies. After watching the movies and observing the film crews in her neighborhood, Wong said that as a child she would practice all the lines she’d heard to herself in the mirror for hours. By the time she was 11 years-old, Liu Tsong created her stage name Anna May and set out to become an actress.

“We were always thrilled when a motion picture company came down into Chinatown to film scenes for a picture,” she said in a 1926 interview. “I would worm my way through the crowd and get as close to the cameras as I dared.”

In the silent film era LA’s Chinatown would suffice as China because of the Chinatwon Central Plaza opened in 1938 and was “designed by Hollywood set designers, and even possessed a film prop donated by legendary director Cecil B. Demille to give the mall a more “exotic” atmosphere.” After hanging around sets, Wong finally caught the eye of the casting director in need of extras and he put Wong on screen for as an uncredited lantern carrier in The Red Lantern. She was elated at her first movie role, being one of three prominently featured Chinese girls in the scene. However later when she went with some friends to see the movie, she found out she was cast alongsid 600 other girls, chosen randomly for her on screen part, and the quality was so poor she couldn’t tell which girl was her. But Anna May Wong wasn’t discouraged, and from there she eventually started getting small extra roles on set leading her to drop out of Los Angeles High School to focus on acting full-time.

When she was 17 years-old, Wong got her big break as the lead in The Toll of the Sea, the second movie to ever be shot in Technicolor. Based loosely on the opera Madame Butterly, Wong played the lead Lotus Flower, the forgotten wife of a handsome Englishman who in the end of the film leaves their son to him and throws herself off a cliff. Her appearance in The Toll of the Sea stood out immediately to critics for both her performance and appearance. The Technicolor showed off the bright costumes and scenery of “China” and her subtle facial expressions and physicality set her apart for an actress so young. The New York Times said, “Completely unconscious of the camera, with a fine sense of proportion and remarkable pantomimic accuracy… She should be seen again and often on the screen.”

Unfortunately, when she was seen again on screen, she often had to work through sub-par acting roles. Because of anti-miscegenation laws banning interracial couples, Wong could never kiss her on-screen lovers, and as a result her character usually died. This helpless “lotus girl” who never gets the handsome white hero, began for her in The Toll of the Sea when her character she sends her son away to live with his white father and commits suicide. On the other hand, she was also chosen to be the villain as the conniving “dragon lady” keeping the two white leads apart with her sexuality, drugs, or murderous plans for the woman as in The Thief of Baghdad, Forty Winks, and Old San Fransisco. Wong’s movie credits in the early part of her career played off this pattern for years, and eventually she left for Europe at two different times in her career.

“They were all so wonderful to me,” Wong said of her time in Europe. “You are admired abroad for your accomplishments and loved for yourself. That made me an individual, instead of a symbol of my race.”

In Europe, Anna May Wong lived in Berlin and found more opportunity in Europe than she ever did in America. Her career abroad flourished like many other American expats of color due to Europe’s more welcoming attitude for American artists. They would invite these “exotic” performers and celebrities to their parties so they could make themselves feel good for being so open minded. Under this subversive patronization Wong’s European career produced some of her most notable films, and she expanded her career by branching out to star in plays, German operas, and toured for a short time as a part of a vaudeville show.

On being told her American accent grated European audiences, she spent months in England taking voice lessons and perfected her posh alto-toned accent just in time for “talkies” to hit the scene. She met and worked with many of the best talent, including Leni Riefenstahl, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Eichberg, and had an alleged affair with Eric Maschwitz.Her most famous European work, Piccadilly was a British production directed by German Ewald Andre Dupont and takes place in a London nightclub where Anna May Wong’s Shosho works as a dishwasher. When the nightclub owner walks in on her dancing in the kitchen, she’s eventually hired as the club’s main performer and thus creates a performance that Variety said, “outshines the star” actress Gilda Gray.

After this last silent film in Europe, Anna May Wong eventually decided to give America another chance when Paramount offered her a contract in Hollywood.The initial role of Wong’s comeback was the standard Oriental dragon lady, but Wong was in it for the real prize: Shanghai Express. One of her first “talkie” movies, Shanghai Express garnered critical acclaim and won Oscars for Best Directing and Best Picture. Starring next to her friend Marlene Dietrich as the sidekick of color, Wong really stole the show. Wong, a prostitute and standard sidekick of color, holds her own against the allure of Dietrich with her own grace and power. The movie did not, however, fully launch Wong’s career out stereotypes and whitewashing, and she was once again passed over for a Chinese role. MGM told Wong she was “too Chinese” for other roles, and frustrated by the same Hollywood, Wong left for Europe a second time.

Rumors in 1935 that MGM was adapting Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth into a film and looking for actresses ende dup bringing Anna May Wong back to Hollywood. It was a book Wong liked, and the lead role of a Chinese woman with a backstory and character development would have been perfect for her. Jennifer Warner’s book “The Tool of the Sea” say that “in 1935 she tested several times for the producers of The Good Earth but was never seriously considered for the role.” The lead actor for the movie had already been cast as the white Paul Muni, so naturally the romantic lead could not be an Asian American woman. Instead MGM went with Luise Rainer — who won the Oscar for her portrayal of O-Lan. The studio did offer Wong part in the movie asLotus, a teahouse dancer who seduces the main character. In a meeting with MGM head Irving Thalberg, Wong famously declined:

“You’re asking me — with Chinese blood — to do the only unsympathetic role in a picture featuring an all-American cast portraying Chinese characters.”

Wong decided to leave America again, but this time, she would embrace being “too Chinese” and spent a year touring China. By the time she returned to Hollywood, Wong’s career started to fade like most other silent film stars. She made early appearances on television, and during World War II she worked as an activist for Chinese support with the United China Relief Fund, and toured with the USO.

“I had to go into retirement for the sake of my soul. I suddenly found no more pleasure in acting. My screen work became a weary and meaningless chore — and Hollywood life a bore!”

Finally in 1942 she retired from acting at age 42, with more than 60 film credits to her name. Back home in Los Angeles, Anna May Wong was able to throw herself into a more domestic life. Her entire career has been infamously mysterious about her love life, no alleged relationships ever confirmed. She’d said of her co-worker and childhood friend Philip Ahn whom tabloids tried to tie together, “It would be like marrying my brother.” In 1939 she bouth an apartment complex in Palisades and developed Moongate Apartments with her younger brother Richard. She decorated the landscaing to resemble the Taishan villages of her heritage, including small ponds and village exclusive plants. She hosted her world traveling friends, and worked in the LA Chinese community as a special guest to draw atendees. Then on a bright June 25, 1938, Anna May Wong was the first shovel in the grounds of Los Angeles Chinatwon’s Central Plaza, planting a ceremonial willow tree.





Fifty years after her death, Anna May Wong’s story lives on through number of biographers have told her life story, film festivals bring back retouched movies for audiences, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame. At the modest Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, one of her dresses stands as the only artifact of her mark on Hollywood. Though she was never the blockbuster star that most remember of the silent era, Anna May Wong is remembered for her legacy as one of the first Chinese Americans in film, and one of the most outspoken voices for representation and better roles for Asian Americans in Hollywood.

Anna May Wong’s hardships with the media sounds commonplace — and partially expected — for the 1930s, it’s not unheard of in 2016. Wong’s legacy for Asian Americans in Hollywood goes unknown mostly because the same barriers are still in place: stereotyped roles and whitewashed casting. For every Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None that show positive portrayals of Asian American families, there’s Matt Damon in the Great Wall and Scarlet Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi placed in Asian roles unnecessarily.“One of the aspects of Anna Mae Wong’s legacy in Hollywood is her perseverance and her ability to transcend the stereotypical roles that she was sometimes cast in,” Jacqueline Lyanga, the director of the American Film Institute said. “I think that this continues to be inspiring for actresses working today who face their own struggles in Hollywood.”

Anna May Wong’s story might have faded, but for she paved the way for upcoming Asian actresses in Hollywood. Because of her representation in the early 1930s, it was more believable for audiences to see this was a possibility for other Asian Americans. Lyanga said that this year’s AFI film festival wanted to feature Wong’s famed “Piccadilly” as a part of Cinema’s Legacy to honor her as a trailblazer in American film. She said that Anna May Wong deserves greater acknowledgment for her contributions that have inspired generations of filmmakers and actors of color.As young actresses begin their careers today in the same climate as Wong’s in the 30s, believing in better media representation gets more difficult. In the age of new media, with the YouTube, Vimeo, crowdsourcing, and easy access to cameras it’s much easier for Asian Americans to get into movies. Different means doesn’t make the same stereotypes and whitewashing disappear, but now actors can hold the media more accountable.

In 2016, the route to film works differently than the path Wong took, but it’s still representation that matters. The Hollywood of 2016 still has much to learn, as it did in 1930, but Anna May Wong’s work won’t stay in the silent film era. Current trailblazers like Constance Wu, Randall Park, Steven Yeun, Ming Na Wen, Alan Yang, and others are changing the face of media, and organizations like CAPE, CAAM, work to promote better Asian representation on screen. Ninety years after Anna May Wong began in Hollywood, perhaps now Hollywood will begin to change.

“I think that the challenge for everyone in Hollywood is to commit to presenting characters and stories that transcend Asian American stereotypes,” Lyanga said. “This starts with the scripts, the casting and the financing of productions. Hollywood can and should be just as diverse as the world in which we live.”