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

By Jonah Valdez, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 4, 2023, 6:10am
4 Photos
Ming-Na Wen, known for her roles in "The Joy Luck Club" and "Mulan," reacts upon seeing her new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during a ceremony on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Ming-Na Wen, known for her roles in "The Joy Luck Club" and "Mulan," reacts upon seeing her new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during a ceremony on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — Ming-Na Wen had a nagging worry before her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony on Tuesday.

What if they spell my name wrong on my star?

“Living in American with a name like mine, trust me, it wasn’t easy — in fact, it sucked,” the film and television actor said before her star was unveiled. “It has been mispronounced and misspelled so many times.

“Mee-nay; Mee-now; Ms. Nah-wen,” she said as she recited the various ways other Americans have fumbled her name. One director told her to Anglicize her name so that it would be easier to remember, but the “Star Wars” and Marvel star rejected his suggestion.

“I guess now that it’s ‘Ming-Na Wen Day,’ I made the right move,” she said in reference to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles City Council resolution that grants star honorees their own day. Wen wiped tears from her eyes as the crowd applauded.

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

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

Her star carries the television symbol, due largely to her work in the soap opera “ As the World Turns.” She was the first Asian American actor signed to a contract role in a daytime drama, portraying Lien Hughes for four seasons, starting in 1988, according to Steve Nissen, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at the ceremony. She also played Dr. Jing-Mei “Deb” Chen on the first season of “ ER,” alongside George Clooney, and would go on to appear in seven seasons. To children of the 1990s, Wen is the voice of the titular character in Disney’s animated film “ Mulan.” And more recent audiences know Wen for her work on Marvel’s “ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Star Wars” shows “ The Mandalorian,” “ The Bad Batch “ and “ The Book of Boba Fett.”

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

Wen’s co-stars from the film, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom and Rosalind Chao, attended Tuesday’s ceremony. In “Joy Luck Club,” the four play second-generation Chinese American immigrants navigating life in white America alongside their mothers. And while on stage to give their own speeches, the four actors looked every bit the part of a close-knit group as the they huddled together, laughing, cracking jokes and crying.

“We came up together in a time when there were very few Asian American actresses, so the presumption was that we were all rivals,” Tomita said during her speech. “But the truth is that we all knew we could only do our best, and that 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 them seeing each other at auditions and being “so overjoyed at the chance to see each other — to catch up, gossip, and laugh.”

“We would sometimes laugh so loud that we would be very often shushed —,” Tomita added, with Wen interjecting with a laugh off mic, “Like today!”

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

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

“We need to just pave this Hollywood Boulevard with more Asian talents,” Wen said, waving her arm as if to brush the pavement 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 Sciences who executive produced “Joy Luck Club.” She also recognized 94-year-old James Hong, who in May 2022, received his own star on the Walk of Fame 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, nearly sweeping major honors 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 that includes two other Asian American and Pacific Islander performers. Actor Jason Momoa is of native Hawaiian ancestry and music artist Apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas is of Filipino descent.

Toward the end of her speech, Wen thanked her mother, Lin Chan Wen, who sat in the front row, for immigrating 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 is American,” Wen said drawing affirming yeses and applause. “And I hope my star will help all the Americans out there, or anyone else, that they don’t have to be a ‘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 pledged to “work even harder still to earn this star.” She pointed out that she has never been nominated for any major awards during a career that has spanned four decades.

“I’ve endured countless rejections, I’ve dealt with sexism, racism, so many ‘isms,’” Wen said. “And I’m willing to face these struggles because when the jobs come, when the few yeses come, they negate all the nos, and the fun starts all over again.”