Get Anna May Wong on PBS
My one-hour documentary, Anna May Wong: In Her Own Words, shows how Anna May Wong (1905-1961) became an artist, a world figure and an activist in spite of the prejudices of her time. It had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival and has been in four American and Canadian festivals.
Right from the beginning I wanted this documentary to reach a wider audience, especially young Asian Americans and other minorities, to inspire them to have a dream and to follow it the way Anna did. One of the film’s funders, the Center for Asian American Media, will distribute it to public television stations. But first I have to buy the broadcast rights to footage I use from Anna May Wong’s films. Paying for rights, and for the insurance PBS requires, will cost me $20,000. If I can’t raise that money the film won’t reach a national audience.
Anna May Wong grew up in Los Angeles, where her parents ran a laundry. She first starred, at age 17, in Toll of the Sea, a silent version of Madame Butterfly. She went on to make dozens of films in Hollywood, London and Berlin, co-starring with Marlene Dietrich, Anthony Quinn, Douglas Fairbanks and Philip Ahn. She was glamorous; photographers loved her. She was a charming and interesting person whose friends included Carl van Vechten, Evelyn Waugh and Paul Robeson. Yet she spent most of her career playing painted dolls and dragon ladies.
Many older Asian Americans look down on Anna for playing stock Asian characters. But a younger generation sees her as a pioneering artist who beat the odds in a tough industry. Besides her strength as a woman, I admire her for pushing herself as an actress. When her film roles were limited, she traveled around Europe performing in cabarets, polishing her talents as a singer, dancer and monologuist. When MGM didn’t cast her in The Good Earth, a film set in China, she went to China anyway and filmed her trip. Long before anyone was called a “community activist,” she devoted herself to the Chinese American community’s war effort during World War II. She was way ahead of her time. Her courage to be herself against all odds is truly inspiring, the kind of story I want my ten-year-old daughter to know.
The Center for Asian American Media, a consortium of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, exists to bring Asian American programs to public TV. Don Young, Program Director at CAAM, says this about the project:
“I feel that ‘Anna May Wong’ is a very strong prospect for broadcast during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May). Yunah has done an exceptional job with her material – she has put a tremendous amount of energy and intelligence into the film. She has one more hurdle to pass before we can send the film to PBS. She has secured partial copyright licenses for her film clips of Anna May Wong — for festival screenings, but not for national broadcast. Until she does that, she cannot obtain the Errors and Omissions Insurance PBS requires. Both of these steps cost money. I strongly urge anyone who cares about Asian Americans in the media to help Yunah tie up these loose ends.”