Cover Gemma Chan at the 2021 Met Gala (Photo: Getty Images)

The Crazy Rich Asians actress calls it “a dream” to portray Hollywood's first Chinese-American movie star

Mere months after paying homage to Anna May Wong on the red carpet, Crazy Rich Asians actress Gemma Chan will now be doing so on the silver screen.

Chan is set to play Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese-American movie star, in an upcoming biopic.

“Anna May Wong was a trailblazer, an icon and a woman ahead of her time,” said Chan in a statement. “Her talent and her exploration of her art both in and outside of the US was groundbreaking—and the challenges and prejudice she faced in the early 20th century as an actress speak directly to the conversations and the world we are navigating today.”

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Aptly, the yet unnamed film will be brought to life by filmmakers and writers of Asian descent. Chan will executive produce the film alongside Nina Yang Bongiovi, a veteran filmmaker in both the American and Hong Kong film industries. The screenplay will be written by David Henry Hwang, the first Asian-American playwright to win a Tony Award, and it’ll be adapted from the 2012 biography, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend by Graham Russell Gao Hodges.

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To stay faithful to Wong’s narrative, the film will also be made in collaboration with the Golden Age starlet’s niece, Anna Wong, who shared, “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.”

Chan first made her admiration for the Hollywood icon known at the 2021 Met Gala. On the red carpet, the Eternals actress showed up in a sequin mini dress with a dragon motif made by Nepalese-American designer Prabal Gurung, and finished the look with bangs and a braided up do—mirroring the archival photos of Wong that she shared on Instagram.

Wong, who was born in Los Angeles after her grandfather emigrated from China, had an illustrious career as a Hollywood movie star. Determined to be an actress as a young girl, Wong studied the actors in films at the cinema and was soon cast as an extra at the age of 14. At 17, she landed the lead role in the first Technicolor film, The Toll of the Sea. Through the 1920s and the ‘30s, she would go on to hone her craft by starring in silent films, talkies, television and theatre—in Hollywood and beyond.

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Being the only Chinese-American actress in Hollywood meant that she also faced plenty of discrimination. Frustrated by the limited, racist roles that she was offered in the American film industry, Wong moved to Europe in 1927 to find better roles. “I think I left America because I died so often,” she said about her decision.

Although she never won an Oscar and was never properly recognised for her contributions to Hollywood, Wong left a legacy that continues to inspire scores of actors and filmmakers today, especially people of colour.

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