Cultural History | Film and Media Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
In the 1930s and ‘40s, shifting relations with China, Japan, and the United States drastically impacted American public sentiment towards these Asian countries. US films produced during these decades starring Anna May Wong illuminate how harmful stereotypes about Chinese culture and people were portrayed on screen. I analyze five of Wong’s films from this period to examine how the gendered and racial stereotypes within them provide a cultural lens of changing US-Chinese relations. The stereotypical archetypes of her characters, which include the formidable Dragon Lady, helpless American citizen, and Chinese war hero, demonstrate how American perceptions of China and Chinese women, personified global events. In addition to these films, I examine various interviews with and newspaper articles written by Wong to create a fuller picture of Wong’s personal views on her career, the US’s perception of China, and Hollywood’s blatant discrimination outside of these on-screen stereotypes. In looking at Wong’s “Oriental" and exoticized image that filmmakers created in the mid-20th century in addition to her various interviews that sharply opposed how she was portrayed on-screen; we can gain an understanding of where and how harmful stereotypes that still exist today originated and what Wong herself thought of them.
O'Leary, Kayla G., "No Happy Endings: Anna May Wong’s American Film Roles from 1931-1942" (2022). CSB/SJU Distinguished Thesis. 22.