Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong broke barriers with her talent. But nearly 100 years after her first starring role, representation for Asian-American actors remains elusive.
Tech giant Google celebrated Wong’s accomplishments in film during her 40-plus-year career with a recent Google Doodle. It’s deserved — between prominent and groundbreaking acting roles in movies like “The Toll of the Sea” and “Shanghai Express” and the television show “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong,” not to mention her status as a fashion icon, Wong achieved and enjoyed decades of international celebrity when most could not.
But while Wong blazed a trail, it has remained difficult for other Asian actors to follow in her footsteps in Hollywood. Of the top 100 films of 2018, more than half completely left out Asian-American performers. The stats are even worse for women of color, researchers found — only 11 of those films featured women of color in leading roles.
Recently, some films have offered glimmers of hope. Romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” — the first studio film with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club” — grossed $238 million internationally and garnered positive reviews. The Netflix original “Always Be My Maybe” also became a critical darling. And though “Parasite” was made in South Korea, it has garnered numerous nominations — including Oscar nods — in the 2020 awards season.
Still, these movies remain the exception, rather than the rule. Perhaps Hollywood can take its cue from Geena Davis’ solution to on-screen gender inequality by simply forcing itself to envision performers of color in leading roles, instead of defaulting to white actors.
We know we would love to see more talents like Wong get their shot — and in time, their own Google Doodle.