Who Was the First Asian American Movie Star?

The entertainment industry in the United States has come a long way in terms of representation. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Asian Americans began to make their mark on Hollywood. In this article, we’ll explore who was the first Asian American movie star.


Before we dive into who the first Asian American movie star was, let’s take a brief look at the history of Asians in Hollywood. In the early days of cinema, white actors often played Asian characters using racist stereotypes and makeup. It wasn’t until the 1910s that Asian actors began to appear on screen.

Anna May Wong

The first Asian American movie star was Anna May Wong. Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong began her acting career in silent films in the late 1910s. She quickly gained popularity and became one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood.

Wong starred in numerous films throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including “The Toll of the Sea” (1922), “Piccadilly” (1929), and “Shanghai Express” (1932). She was known for her beauty and talent but often faced discrimination due to her race.

Challenges Faced by Anna May Wong

Despite her success, Wong faced many challenges as an Asian American actress. She was often passed over for leading roles and had to settle for supporting parts playing exotic or stereotypical characters.

Wong also struggled with racism from both Hollywood executives and audiences. In 1935, she was denied a leading role in “The Good Earth” because producers believed that white audiences would not accept an Asian actress as a romantic lead opposite a white actor.

Legacy of Anna May Wong

Despite these challenges, Anna May Wong paved the way for future generations of Asian American actors. She inspired many with her talent and determination to succeed in an industry that was not always welcoming to people of color.

Today, Anna May Wong is remembered as a trailblazer and icon in the Asian American community. In 2021, she was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


In conclusion, Anna May Wong was the first Asian American movie star. She faced many challenges due to her race but persevered and left a lasting impact on Hollywood. Her legacy continues to inspire generations of Asian American actors and filmmakers who are working to create more diverse and inclusive representation in the entertainment industry.