Since the diversity pieces out there today can be rather disheartening (like our Diversity Gap in the Oscars infographic), we decided to take a look at things that are a bit more positive. And as the 86th Academy Awards are on Sunday, this “Lee & Low Likes” honors Cheryl Boone Issacs, the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s important to note that she’s just the third woman to be elected; Bette Davis served for just two month in 1941 and screenwriter Fay Kanin held the position for four years in 1979-1983. Sadly, it’s been 30 years since a woman has held the president position in the Academy.
Continuing our entries for Women’s History Month, we asked the talented writer and producer Paula Yoo (author of Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story) about whether women of color in Hollywood still face the same challenges that Anna May Wong once did. Here’s what she had to say:
“It’s a pretty sad situation to be rejected by [the] Chinese because I’m ‘too American’ and by American producers because they prefer other races to act Chinese parts.”— Anna May Wong, quoted from James Parish and William Leonard’s Hollywood Players: The Thirties (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers, 1976, pp. 532–538)
Anna May Wong dreamed of becoming a famous movie star in Hollywood. As a child working in her family’s laundry in downtown Los Angeles, Anna was often distracted by movies being filmed on location. While dropping off her customers’ clean laundry, Anna would hover nearby on the sidewalk to observe the actors, directors, and camera crews.
Anna, however, had no idea that she would also become a pioneer for actors of color, thanks to her determination to overcome the discrimination she faced in the 1930s as one of the few actresses of color in the industry. Like many struggling actors, Anna was forced to accept certain roles she found demeaning (and even racist) because the competition was so fierce in Hollywood.