“Eternals” and “Crazy Rich Asians” star Gemma Chan will portray Anna May Wong, known as the first Asian American movie star, in an upcoming biopic.
Chan, who will also executive produce, is partnering with producer Nina Yang Bongiovi and Working Title Films to develop the movie.
“Anna May Wong was a trailblazer, an icon and a woman ahead of her time,” Chan said in a statement. “Her talent and her exploration of her art both in and outside of the U.S. 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.”
David Henry Hwang will pen the biopic based on “Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend,” a 2012 biography by Graham Russell Gao Hodges. Hwang, who wrote the 1988 drama “M. Butterfly,” was the first Asian American playwright to win a Tony Award.
Wong, who was born Wong Liu Tsong, was the second of eight children of a Chinese family that immigrated to Los Angeles. Her parents owned a laundromat on North Figueroa Street, where she worked while attending school and Chinese language classes.
The Asian American icon became interested in acting from a young age, asking directors for roles whenever she found time to visit local sets. She eventually found success, though her earliest roles perpetuated Asian stereotypes at the time.
Her niece, Anna Wong, will serve as a consultant on the film. “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,” she said in a statement.
“Anna May Wong’s presence in American and worldwide cinema was the first of its kind, and her representation continues to resonate today,” she added. “[Wong] is the embodiment of inspiration for artists of color.”
Wong’s credits include “The Toll of the Sea” (1922), “Drifting” (1923), “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), “Piccadilly” (1929) and “Shanghai Express” (1932). In 1951, she starred in “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong” and became the first actor of Asian descent to lead a U.S. television show.
Aside from making waves in the acting world, Wong also became an international fashion icon. She was named “the world’s best-dressed woman” by the Mayfair Mannequin Society of New York in 1934 and deemed the “world’s most beautiful Chinese girl” by Look Magazine in 1938.
Chan described the upcoming project as a “dream.” She paid homage to Wong in a dress designed by Prabal Gurung during last year’s Met Gala.
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News of the upcoming biopic quickly drew positive reactions. Several fans, including Chan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” co-stars, showed their support on Instagram.
Henry Golding commented, “Your [sic] gonna kill it,” while Harry Shum Jr. wrote, “This is the path, Gemma. Excited for this!”