Google Doodle Celebrates Anna May Wong, the First Chinese-American Movie Star

Today's Google Doodle celebrates Anna May Wong, who is considered to be the first Chinese-American Hollywood movie star. January 22, 2020, marks 97 years since the release of The Toll of the Sea, the movie in which Wong had her first leading role.

The Google Doodle is a slideshow depicting scenes from Wong's life, including Wong as a child holding up a dress in her parents' laundry, filming a movie, traveling to Europe, and dressed up as a few of her most famous roles.

Sophie Diao, the artist behind the Doodle, said: "I knew I wanted to highlight her commanding stage presence, so stylistically I felt a dramatic black-and-white slideshow would be the way to go.

"When deciding what content to include, I went for a highlight reel of some important aspects of her career, from her first starring role in The Toll of the Sea to her incredible costumes to The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, a detective TV show that she starred in. I also wanted to nod to her humble beginnings working in her parents' laundry, to show how far she came."

Wong was born in Los Angeles, California, as Wong Liu Tsong on January 3, 1905. Wong's family was from Taishan, China, and Wong grew up speaking both English and Cantonese. Deciding she wanted to be a movie star, Wong chose Anna May Wong as her stage name aged 11.

anna may wong google doodle
Anna May Wong is celebrated in today's Google Doodle. Google/Sophie Diao

Wong first starred in The Toll of the Sea, which was released in 1922. The silent movie told the story of an American seaman who marries a Chinese woman named Lotus Flower, played by Wong, before deserting her.

In 1928, the actress moved to Europe to avoid being given stereotypical roles, and she starred in movies including Piccadilly (1929) and The Flame of Love (1930). Then, Wong returned to the U.S. and in 1932, she starred in Shanghai Express with Marlene Dietrich.

Wong was also the first Asian-American to play a leading role in a U.S. TV series, as in the 1950s she starred in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, in which she played a detective.

The actress was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and she died in 1961, aged 56.

Speaking about Wong, Diao said: "Asian American actors are underrepresented even now, so amazingly Anna May Wong was so active right at the beginning of film history, bridging the gap between silent films and talkies.

"My favorite thing about Wong is her can-do approach to life. It shows in her dedication to her craft. [...] She was a second-generation American, but others still saw her as an exotic foreigner. Despite this, she rolled with the punches, took on lots of roles that gave her practice and notoriety, and stood up for herself when she could. [...] I can empathize with feeling caught between your own identity and the identity others expect you to have."