Barbie introduces Anna May Wong doll
Trailblazing actor Anna May Wong is making her debut in the Barbie’s Inspiring Women series.
Wong, who is considered the first Chinese American female actor in Hollywood, will be the first Asian American figure featured in the Mattel collection, which highlights notable women in history such as poet Dr. Maya Angelou, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and artist Frida Kahlo.
The doll, released Monday, features her iconic blunt bangs, a red-and-gold dress adorned with a dragon, a sheer red cape and gold heels. It also comes with literature that talks about the actor’s accomplishments.
Anna Wong, the niece of Anna May Wong, worked alongside Barbie for the last year to develop the doll that was released for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Anna Wong, named after her aunt, said the doll honors her aunt but is more than that.
“When I was growing up, I had Barbie, Skipper and all her friends. But all of those Barbies had blond hair, all of those Barbies had blue eyes,” she said. “Now I know that my nieces — they’re all going to be able to have Barbies that look different. All of my Barbies sitting in my room looked the same and now, there are more Barbies that look different.”
Anna Wong never met her aunt but said she remembered seeing her photos hanging in her home.
“I was born just after she passed away and it was very sad. But I grew up with her because my father and my aunt were very close,” she told NBC News. “I would see that there was this really pretty lady and I’d be looking at her pictures. As I got older, my father started telling me our history, about who she was and what she did for Asians, for women and for actors.”
Anna May Wong, whose birth name was Wong Liu Tsong, was born in Los Angeles in 1905 to Chinese immigrants. She was cast in her first role as an extra in “The Red Lantern” at 14 and continued taking smaller roles until her leading role in “The Toll of the Sea” in 1922, according to the New York Historical Society.
She developed an extensive portfolio with roles in television, on-stage performances and over 60 films, including one of the first made in Technicolor. She also became the first Asian American lead actor in a U.S. television show, “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong,” in which she played a Chinese detective, according to the National Women’s Museum.
“A lot of history is made by women who are strong women. My aunt was a very strong woman. She was tenacious. She fought against racism. She fought against stereotypical roles for Asians in Hollywood,” Anna Wong said.
Despite her years of experience, she struggled to find roles in the U.S. because of her race and eventually traveled to Europe to work in English, German and French films. She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and died in 1961, at age 56.
Anna Wong said her aunt would be proud to see how far Asian and Asian American actors have come, referring to the historic wins of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” this award season.
“A lot of Asian actors today are where they are because of the things she fought so hard for in Hollywood,” she said. “Her legacy is part of history.”
Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls at Mattel, honored Wong as “the first Asian-American actor to lead a U.S. television show, whose perseverance broke down barriers for her gender and AAPI community in film and TV.”