MAKEUP MUSES Anna May Wong The first Chinese American movie star in Hollywood, Anna May Wong was born in LA on the outskirts of Chinatown. She was fascinated by the movies that would film there many studios at the time used it as a substitute for China and got her first break when she was asked to be an extra in one such film at the age of fourteen. She continued playing bit parts over the next couple of years before leaving school to pursue acting full-time in 1921. With her trademark blunt bangs and typically sleek twenties hair (and, undoubtedly, her supposed exotic heritage… despite the fact that she was American), Anna May Wong was a vamp. Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States at this time prohibited interracial relationships, which meant that she could not play a leading lady unless the leading man was also Asian (even if the lead character was intended to be Asian, the part would inevitably go to a Caucasian actress in Oriental makeup).
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The frustration of this discrimination, and of only being offered a certain villainous type of role, made her eager to go to Europe when the opportunity presented itself in 1928. She was able to act and live more like an individual there and was much feted, instigating a trend for using powder to achieve her perfect complexion. She returned to Hollywood in 1931 and starred opposite Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, but when MGM cast the leading role of the female character Lien Wha in The Son-Daughter the following year, they claimed that Wong was “too Chinese” to play the (Chinese) part. It’s sad that due to the prejudice of the time and place in which she lived, Anna May Wong’s career never took off as it should have, but she remains an incredibly important trailblazer, and her influence in the beauty world continued when US fashion designer Anna Sui used her as the inspiration for the makeup and hair of her A/W 2014 show.
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