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, my 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, my 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.
Yiman Wang is Assistant Professor of Film & Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz.