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ONLINE—UNLADYLIKE2020: Anna May Wong—Trendsetting Movie Star and Fashion Icon

April 7, 2020April 8, 2020

Free

Anna May Wong, trendsetting movie star and fashion icon. Original artwork by Amelie Chabannes.

Releasing weekly on the American Masters and UNLADYLIKE2020 websites starting in March, Unladylike2020 is a multimedia series consisting of a one-hour special for broadcast and 26 digital short films featuring courageous, little-known and diverse female trailblazers from the turn of the 20th century. These women achieved many firsts, including earning an international pilot’s license, becoming a bank president, founding a hospital, fighting for the desegregation of public spaces, exploring the Arctic, opening a film studio, and singing opera at Carnegie Hall. Presenting history in a bold new way, American Masters — Unladylike2020, produced and directed by Charlotte Mangin, brings these incredible stories back to life through original artwork and animation, rare historical archival footage, and interviews with descendants, historians and accomplished modern women who reflect upon the influence of these pioneers.

On April 8, watch the story of Anna May Wong (1905–1961), who was born in Los Angeles to second-generation Chinese Americans, was the first Asian American female movie star. Her long and varied career spanned silent and sound film, stage, radio, and television, in an era when Chinese protagonists in Hollywood movies were typically performed by white actors in yellow face. The first woman to buck this trend, Wong starred in classics such as THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922) at age 17, Douglas Fairbanks’ THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), and SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) in which her sexually charged scenes with Marlene Dietrich fed rumors about a lesbian relationship. Wong left Hollywood for Europe in the late 1920s, frustrated by the stereotypical roles in which she was often typecast as either a victim known as a ‘lotus blossom’ or as a ‘lady dragon’ victimizer. Her career was also limited by American anti-miscegenation laws, which prevented her from sharing an on-screen kiss with any person of another race. Interviewees: historian Shirley Jennifer Lim, Associate Professor of History at SUNY Stony Brook and author of Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern; actor and Tony Award-Winning Producer, Jenna Ushkowitz, best known for her role as Tina Cohen Chang in Glee.

A vast interactive website features the stories of over 100 diverse and extraordinary women from the turn of the 20th century who broke barriers and achieved tremendous professional heights.

Read on for more about this project, and PBS’ summer-long celebration of female trailblazers here.

UNLADYLIKE 2020 is supported by California Humanities through a California Documentary Project grant.