Too Chinese: Anna May Wong, the Segregationist Era, and American Cinema

Yiman Wang
Film and Digital Media
UC Santa Cruz

This book project explores the significance of Anna May Wong, the most important, yet understudied early 20th-century Chinese-American actress, who built a worldwide reputation during a segregationist era, despite confinement to “minor” roles in her Hollywood hometown. Both historical and comparative, this book illuminates her trail-blazing, strategic race-gender performance as she achieved a career that bridged the silent and talkie eras, encompassing theater, film, and television. By examining fully her “yellow yellowface” performance and multi-valenced audience engagement, the project formulates the interdisciplinary field of “minor” actor-worker studies. It not only draws upon “minor transnationalism” (Lionnet and Shih) and “minor literature” (Deleuze and Guattari) to challenge mainstream star theories in film/media/performance studies. It also sheds new light on the complexity of minority identity and community, and connects in important ways to a range of humanities disciplines including history, labor studies, Asian-American and Asia-Pacific studies, diasporic studies, gender/race studies, and American studies.