cover image Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History

Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History

Yunte Huang. Liveright, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-63149-580-9

Huang (Inseparable), an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concludes his Rendezvous with America trilogy with a vital account of the life of Anna May (née Liu Tsong) Wong (1905–1961), the first Chinese American movie star, that masterfully chronicles her “spectacular rise from laundryman’s daughter to global celebrity against the backdrop of a world riven by racism, bigotry, and injustice.” Wong made her first onscreen appearance as an extra in The Red Lantern (1919) and three years later landed a breakthrough role as the Madame Butterfly–esque lead in The Toll of the Sea. Huang details how racism shaped Wong’s career, noting that she was often “considered too Chinese to play a Chinese” and lost roles to white actors in yellowface who conformed to Asian stereotypes, most notably getting passed over for the lead role in The Good Earth (1937) in favor of white actor Luise Rainer. Additionally, anti-miscegenation prohibitions kept Wong from starring roles in romances because she wasn’t allowed to kiss a white man onscreen. Huang’s sympathetic treatment brings out the nuances of Wong’s story, highlighting how she by turns acceded to and bristled against the stereotypes Hollywood asked her to play, a dynamic captured in Wong’s sardonic practice of signing publicity photos “Orientally yours.” It’s a fascinating—and long overdue—close-up of a Hollywood trailblazer. Photos. (Aug.)