September 30, 2023

Ming-Na Wen gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, calls for more Asian-American inductees

Ming-Na Wen in a white and black-accented dress rests next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Ming-Na Wen stretches next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at a ceremony in her honor on Tuesday. (Willy Sanjuan / Invision / Associated Press)

Ming-Na Wen had a nagging concern for her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony on Tuesday.

What if they misspell my name on my star?

“Living in America with a name like mine, believe me, it wasn’t easy — in fact, it sucked,” said the film and television actor before her star was revealed. “It’s so often mispronounced and misspelled.

‘Me-no; Mee-now; Ms. Nah-wen,” she said, listing the various ways other Americans have made up her name. A director told her to anglicize her name so it would be easier to remember, but the “Star Wars” and Marvel star rejected his suggestion.

“Now that it’s ‘Ming-Na Wen Day,’ I think I’ve made the right move,” she said in reference to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles City Council resolution granting stars their own day. Wen wiped tears from her eyes as the audience applauded.

“If they can say ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ they can say ‘Ming-Na Wen,'” she later joked.

When her star was revealed, Wen stared at it, put her hand on the coral-pink terrazzo surface with “Ming-Na Wen” etched in copper, took a moment to herself, and initially ignored calls from the press to look up for photos. She became one of a small list of Asian artists – Anna May Wong, Mako, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and James Hong – to get their stars on the Walk of Fame.

Her star bears the television symbol, thanks in large part to her work on the soap opera ‘As the World Turns’. According to Steve Nissen, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the ceremony, she was the first Asian-American actor to be signed to a contract role in a daytime drama, playing Lien Hughes for four seasons, beginning in 1988. She also played Dr. Jing-Mei “Deb” Chen in the first season of “ER”, alongside George Clooney, and was set to appear in seven seasons. For 1990s kids, Wen is the voice of the titular character in Disney’s animated movie “Mulan”. And more recent audiences know Wen for her work on Marvel’s “Agents of SHIELD” and “Star Wars” shows “The Mandalorian,” “The Bad Batch,” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”

Still, it was her work on the big screen that led to her Hollywood breakthrough. She was one of the stars of the groundbreaking 1993 movie “The Joy Luck Club” based on Amy Tan’s novel of the same name. It was the first major studio film to feature an all-Asian-American, mostly female cast.

Wen’s co-stars from the film, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom and Rosalind Chao, attended the ceremony on Tuesday. “Joy Luck Club” stars the four second-generation Chinese-American immigrants who navigate life in white America with their mothers. And while onstage giving their own speeches, the four actors looked like a tight-knit group as they sat together, laughing, joking and crying.

“We came together at a time when there were very few Asian-American actresses, so the assumption was that we were all rivals,” Tomita said during her speech. “But the truth is we all knew that all we could do was give our best, and we all win some, we lose some – it was never about competition.”

Tomita, who auditioned for the same ‘As the World Turns’ role as Wen, recalled that they had seen each other at auditions and were ‘so overjoyed at the chance to see each other – to catch up, to gossip and to laugh ‘.

Four women stand at a lectern on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Rosalind Chao speaks with Lauren Tom and Tamlyn Tomita at the Hollywood Walk of Fame unveiling for Ming-Na Wen, left. All four starred in the 1993 movie “The Joy Luck Club”. (Willy Sanjuan / Invision / Associated Press)

“We used to laugh so hard that we were silenced very often -,” Tomita added, as Wen interjected with a laugh from the mic, “Like today!”

“By casting assistants, by our mothers on set, by our real mothers, by flight attendants on planes traveling across the country and by each other on stage,” Tomita continued, gesturing to Wen, Tom and Chao.

Wen started her speech by turning to her co-stars and telling them that they, and other Asian artists, all deserve their own stars on the Walk of Fame.

“We just need to pave this Hollywood Boulevard with more Asian talent,” Wen said, waving her arm as if to brush the sidewalk with her hand.

Wen later recognized prominent Asian Americans in Hollywood who attended the ceremony, including Janet Yang, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
s who was an executive producer of “Joy Luck Club”. She also recognized 94-year-old James Hong, who received his own star on the Walk of Fame in May 2022 after a fan-funded campaign, becoming the oldest star inductee.

Wen recognized Hong’s work in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, which broke other barriers with its cast of Asian leads, which almost garnered major accolades during the past awards season, including Best Picture at the 2023 Oscars.

Hong and Wen, both Chinese Americans, were part of a Walk of Fame class with two other Asian American and Pacific Islander performers. Actor Jason Momoa is of Native Hawaiian descent and music artist of the Black Eyed Peas is of Filipino descent.

Ming-Na Wen in a white dress with black accents stands next to her mother.

Ming-Na Wen will be with her mother, Lin Chan Wen, in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Willy Sanjuan / Invision / Associated Press)

Towards the end of her speech, Wen thanked her mother, Lin Chan Wen, who sat in the front row, for emigrating from Hong Kong when Wen was a young child. She then dedicated the star to her mother.

“I want to thank you for my name, because it may not be English, but it’s American,” Wen said, confirming yes and applause. “And I hope my star will help all Americans out there, or anyone else, that they don’t have to be ‘Tom,’ ‘John,’ or ‘Mary’ to feel American — they do belong.”

Wen admitted that she felt she didn’t deserve the Walk of Fame honor and vowed to “work even harder to earn this star”. She pointed out that she has never been nominated for any major awards in her career spanning four decades.

“I’ve endured countless rejections, I’ve had to deal with sexism, racism, so many ‘isms,'” Wen said. “And I’m willing to take this fight because when the jobs come, when the few yeses come, they deny all the nos, and the fun starts all over again.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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