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Gemma Chan Set to Star in Anna May Wong Biopic

Madeline Hiltz
(Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/ MG21/ Getty Images and John Kobal Foundation/ Getty Images)

We think a biopic on actress Anna May Wong is long overdue! The actress is set to be the subject of a new movie about her life, a century after the height of her popularity.

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong, circa 1930s. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Actress Gemma Chan and producer Nina Yang Bongiovi have teamed up to develop the biopic. Gemma Chan has recently starred in several hit movies, including Marvel’s The Eternals (2021) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Nina Yang Bongiovi’s notable works include Sorry to Bother You (2018) and Passing (2021).

In our opinion, Chan is the perfect actress to portray Wong on the big screen. In 2021, she teamed up with Nepalese-American designer Prabal Gurung to pay homage to Anna May Wong at the Met Gala. Chan wore a black sequin mini dress with a dragon motif on the front, complete with a pastel green train. She wore her hair up in a braided updo, previously seen on Wong.

Gemma Chan at the 2021 Met Gala

Gemma Chan attends the 2021 Met Gala benefit “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. She pays homage to Anna May Wong through her outfit and hairstyle. (Photo Credit: Taylor Hill/ WireImage/ Getty Images)

In a statement, Gemma Chan said: “Anna May Wong was a trailblazer, an icon, and a woman ahead of her time. Her tale and exploration of her art both in and outside of the U.S. was groundbreaking – and the challenges and prejudices she faced in the early 20th century as an actress speak directly to the conversation the world we are navigating today.”

Anna May Wong is widely regarded as the first Asian-American movie star, yet she faced discrimination during her career in Hollywood. Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong appeared in 60 films between 1919 to 1960. However, she was often cast in sensual or subservient roles.

Anna May Wong in Limehouse Blues

Anna May Wong wearing a dress with a dragon motif in a publicity shot for ‘Limehouse Blues’, directed by Alexander Hall, circa 1934. (Photo Credit: John Kobal Foundation/ Getty Images)

In 1937, MGM refused to cast Wong as the female lead, O-Lan, in its adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. Instead, actress Luise Rainer was cast as the female lead. Rainer went on to win the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of O-Lan.

Fed up about being typecast and the number of roles available to her, Wong left Hollywood for Europe. Overseas, Wong starred in films in Berlin, Paris, and London. She passed away in 1961 at the age of 56.

Anna May Wong’s niece, Anna Wong, serves as a consultant on her aunt’s new biopic. In a statement, Anna Wong said, “I’m delighted that I’ll get to build on my aunt’s legacy with Gemma and Nina who are Asian leaders in the forefront of storytelling. Anna May Wong’s presence in American and worldwide cinema was the first of its kind, and her representation continues to resonate today. She is the embodiment of inspiration for artists of color.”

Nina Yang Bongiovi

Nina Yang Bongiovi attends the screening of “Passing” during the 2021 Mill Valley Film Festival at Smith Rafael Film Center on October 14, 2021 in San Rafael, California. Nina Yang Bongiovi is set to produce the Anna May Wong biopic. (Photo Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/ Getty Images)

The biopic is set to be an adaptation of Graham Russell Sao Hodge’s biography, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. The screenplay will be led by David Henry Hwang, who made history in 1988 as the first Asian-American playwright to win a Tony award for M. Butterfly. 

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Anna May Wong has been memorialized in recent years. In 2021, the United States Mint announced that Wong will be featured in its American Women quarter series, making her the first Asian American to appear on American currency. The currently unnamed biopic on Wong’s life is sure to be one of the most-anticipated movies of the year.