March 22 - Women’s History Month Profile: Nancy Kwan

Another influential actress in Hollywood and cinema, Nancy Kwan changed the roles and visibility of Asian American women on the big screen. Born in Hong Kong to a Chinese father and an English mother, she learned performing arts, tai chi, and ballet at an early age. While Kwan intended to start a ballet school, Ray Stark, a Hollywood producer, scouted her with an opportunity to star in the film The World of Suzie Wong in 1961. However, even the makeup men wanted to make her look “more Chinese” in order to reinforce her role as a superficial and hypersexualized cultural stereotype to be believable to the audience. Nonetheless, the film was a breakpoint in her life as she quickly achieved stardom and popularity around the world based on her spectacular performance. In the same year, Kwan starred in the Flower Drum Song, featuring not only the first entirely Asian American leading cast, but also her famous performance where she sang “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” The 1960s meant that she would be seen as a sex symbol and ethnic typecasting until later in her career. Most recently, Kwan uses her time to direct, help produce films, serves as a political spokeswoman for the Asian American Voters Coalition, and philanthropy for AIDS awareness.