"If you've followed the conversation on Asian representation in media-- from SoCal Youtubers to "Everything Everywhere All at Once"-- this is the road map. Anna May Wong lead an incredible life, a trailblazer of early Hollywood and a historic representative of Chinese American identity (for all the complications that diaspora entails.) She's definitely having her moment right now and this book goes beyond the "celebrity biography" to contextualize the times she lived in and the history she experienced. (Including one chapter about the history of Chinese-owned laundries in early Hollywood that will make you think about "EEAAO" in a whole new way.)
One of the best book I've read about a phenomenal woman."
A trenchant reclamation of the Chinese American movie star, whose battles against cinematic exploitation and endemic racism are set against the currents of twentieth-century history.
Born into the steam and starch of a Chinese laundry, Anna May Wong (1905–1961) emerged from turn-of-the-century Los Angeles to become Old Hollywood’s most famous Chinese American actress, a screen siren who captivated global audiences and signed her publicity photos—with a touch of defiance—“Orientally yours.” Now, more than a century after her birth, Yunte Huang narrates Wong’s tragic life story, retracing her journey from Chinatown to silent-era Hollywood, and from Weimar Berlin to decadent, prewar Shanghai, and capturing American television in its infancy. As Huang shows, Wong’s rendezvous with history features a remarkable parade of characters, including a smitten Walter Benjamin and (an equally smitten) Marlene Dietrich. Challenging the parodically racist perceptions of Wong as a “Dragon Lady,” “Madame Butterfly,” or “China Doll,” Huang’s biography becomes a truly resonant work of history that reflects the raging anti-Chinese xenophobia, unabashed sexism, and ageism toward women that defined both Hollywood and America in Wong’s all-too-brief fifty-six years on earth.