A plea for an American not Chinese actress to portray American actress Anna May Wong in biopic

Various news sources including Variety report a biopic on actress Anna May Wong is in the works through Shanghai –based Fundamental Films. Fundamental Films has an office in Los Angeles and co-produces English-language films.

This is fantastic news as documentaries have been made on Wong but a narrative biopic would bring her story to the masses. It has the potential to make her a household name like Halle Berry did with Dorothy Dandridge and potentially open doors to an Asian-American actress as it did for Halle Berry.

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Anna May Wong was a 3rd generation American of Chinese ancestry born over 100 years ago. Her story is an American story, not a Chinese story.

This movie would be a great vehicle to show the world Asians in America, who are often regarded as perpetual foreigners, are as old as immigrants from Europe. Asian Americans too have American stories that are not about refugees or online mail order brides. There are Asians in America who are 5th or 7th or more generation American. Americans could look Asian back then. Asian Americans did not start immigrating to the States 40 years ago or yesterday. An 80-year-old Asian American can look like an American who had American grandparents. A 30 year-old Asian American can look like the great-great grandchild of Americans.

Two American men are working on the screenplay but it is reported producers have approached Chinese actress, Fan Bingbing, for the most pivotal role in the making of the movie.  I can support the casting of a Chinese actress if it will be a Chinese-language not an English-language movie. Perhaps it can be tolerable if the Chinese actress is the Meryl Streep of accents but it would be odd for an audience to watch an American character portrayed by a Chinese actress speaking with a Chinese accent or an imperfect attempt at an American accent or dubbed. This is akin to Monica Belucci playing the singer Madonna (Ciccone).

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Audiences may not always understand the goings-on of movie making and can be tricked but an audience is smart enough to know if a historical character is American or Chinese. Audiences know Lucy Liu is American; Ziyi Zhang is Chinese. Audiences may find a dubbed movie palatable but would feel it peculiar. Audiences would easily find out Anna May Wong was American. Audiences may not be geniuses but aren’t given credit. They can sense being cheated of an American story due to inauthentic casting perpetuating the very stereotypes in 2014 that Anna May was struggling herself.

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Hollywood is tough for any person however it even tougher for women. It is even tougher for non-Caucasian women. It is even tougher for Asian-American woman as at least the Latino and black communities have a stronger network in the moving image. This is a chance to make a movie about not only an American woman but a talented, alluring and beautiful Asian American actress who had many cards stacked up against her. Her story paves the way for an Asian American actress today to showcase her talent.

Many say Hollywood is not ready for an Asian American lead but it has already happened in the past. It should not matter if Hollywood is ready but if the masses are ready. The masses have been ready.  I doubt American audiences will eschew a movie because a lead or a few major supporting characters are Asian American especially if the characters are playing just plain ole Americans like Anna May Wong. Why would American audiences consciously avoid a movie about themselves, a fellow American? Her life was in the States and Europe. The movie would not be a predominately Asian cast anyway like The Joy Luck Club or Flower Drum Song. What’s the Big To-Do fearing Hollywood or the masses aren’t ready for a biopic of a talented and sexy old time actress with a life full of trials and tribulations? Don’t we love drama and beauty?

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