I Transformed Myself Into A 1920’s Hollywood Star | Beauty With Mi | Refinery29

I Transformed Myself Into A 1920’s Hollywood Star | Beauty With Mi | Refinery29


In 2018, I watched the release
of movies like Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved
Before gain international fame as
necessary steps to a more diverse film
industry. The success of these movies
got me thinking about the role Asian actors have
played in American film. And that led me to
Anna May Wong. Anna May Wong is
considered one of the first Asian American
Hollywood stars, rising to fame in the ’20s
and ’30s. I decided to take a walk in
Anna’s shoes this week and by shoes I mean
makeup. But knowing little about
how makeup was worn in the ’20s and ’30s
and even less about Anna’s unique style, I
decided to reach out to an expert. Gabriela Hernandez, founder
of Besame Cosmetics and makeup historian. So how would you describe
Anna May Wong’s makeup and her overall aesthetic? She was inspired by the
flappers. She was kind of an
avant garde. Very stylized type of looks,
as far as how she did her hair, the really, really
thin brows and the really bold lips, to even
perpetuate her role as like the dragon
lady. How would you describe the
most prominent makeup trends from the 1920s? So the brows definitely
were one of the statements of that period. Then you have the bold
lips. It was intentionally meant
to make your lips look puckered and smaller. She did the same thing
but it was drawn so that it was a little bit
harsher. She was trying to be more
exotic. The use of like a thin liner
like that didn’t really come into fashion until
the ’50s. Her look was bold. Some women started to
want to be independent and actually not be beholden
to a man. There was the flappers, so
the women that wanted to express themselves in a
different way and wanted to be more
independent. You had prohibition so you
had hidden speakeasies, where people could go for
entertainment. You would have the smoky
eyes and the look that Anna May Wong
was wearing was more of a character. She managed actually to get
some roles where she was the main star. And that was quite an
achievement during that time. When it comes to makeup
Anna May Wong was clearly ahead of her time. But after learning about her
use of style and beauty to amplify her roles, I wondered
how this second generation Chinese American navigated
the film industry back in the early 1900s. I met with Graham Hodges,
professor of history at Colgate University and
author of Anna May Wong: From
Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. Anna May Wong is an important
cultural figure because she’s probably the
most famous Asian American woman
of the 20th century. She also crystalizes what
an actress of Asian decent does in Hollywood. The roles that she has to
take, the difficulties she has with scripts, with directors. But at the same time the
stick-to-itiveness to manage a career that
lasts for four decades and over 55 movies. Her first big role is called
Toll of the Sea. People are just amazed by
her ability to cry on cue, by the costumes she wears,
by the hairstyles. The problem for Anna May
is that she’s Chinese American
during the era of Chinese exclusions. It goes from 1882 until 1943. In which there are heavy bans
on particularly Chinese women coming
into the country. That ban then translates into
a lot of social discrimination. She cannot have a relationship
with a white man on the screen. She can’t
kiss the guy. She can’t be the happy ending
of a romantic film. Something has to happen
to her. Usually she has to go through
some kind of torture. She always dies at the end. Breaking point for her is the
production of the most famous novel ever done by
an American about the Chinese, and it’s
The Good Earth. This is Pearl Buck’s Nobel
Prize winning novel. Pearl Buck declares it should
be made with Chinese actors which would be a huge
innovation. All of her backers are saying,
“It must be Anna May as O-Lan,” who is the good
wife. It goes to Luise Rainer,
who’d won the Oscar. So after that she takes a
famous trip to China. She’d never been there
before. And so she spends about
seven months in China learning about Chinese
theater, film. And when she goes back
she says, “I’m only gonna do movies
that are positive about China.” American attitudes about China
are changing at this point. Producers are more willing
to giver her positive roles. The kind of issues that she
faced in the 1920s, Asian American actors are still
struggling with today. Anna May Wong can inspire
Asian Americans through her perseverance, her dedication, her refusal to be rejected, and her success. It’s clear Anna May Wong
jumped through hoops for her career. Armed with my new found
knowledge of Anna, it was time to tackle her
makeup routine. The first thing I tacked, were
Anna’s iconic ’20s style brows. So I decided to cover them
using Elmer’s Glue, powder, and foundation, a
technique used by many drag artists today. This was my first time
attempting to do this, and I’m not gonna lie, I
overestimated my abilities. This was a hard task, but
after many many rounds of glue, copious amounts of
powder and foundation, I finally got them to a place
I was happy with. According to Gabriela,
most women in the ’20s would’ve shied away from
face makeup, opting instead for just a
layer of powder. Since I covered my brows,
though, I did apply some of the same foundation to
the rest of my face to even things out. Once my foundation was blended,
I went in with some Ben Nye Contour Cream. And they did contour
during that time to make sure that the angles
were seen from the cameras because the lighting in the
film weren’t as good at capturing light and
shadows. So a lot of times they
had to paint them in so that you would see
shadows on the face when they were filming
black and white movies. Then I followed up with a
heavy dose of Ben Nye’s Color Cake Makeup
to even out my complexion and create a porcelain-like
finish. Then came the tricky part drawing on my fake
eyebrows. This is what we’re working
with and this is what we’re trying to achieve. We know she started out in
silent film and in those films you
needed to be able to portray expression
without actually having people hear what
you were saying. So the eyebrows were part
of your acting. Eyebrows are on. That was so hard. I don’t think I did a great job,
but it was my first time. In the ’20s, most women
wore smoky eyes, but Anna May Wong opted
for a cat-eye shape. She was pushing the shape
of her own eyes and making them even more
elongated and almond shaped so
that it was very exotic and it kind of helped her image
on screen as being this character. She also smudged liner
onto her bottom lashline to give her eyes a more
sultry effect. Alright, I’m gonna start to
bring the color into my inner corner. She has extremely long
bottom lashes and we got a pair of bottom
lash falsies from a brand called House of Lashes
and I’m going to put a little bit of lashes on my top lashline
as well. False lashes were very, very
common as far as theatrical use and in movies
because they would photograph
better. Once my eyeliner was done,
I applied a layer of cake mascara. After wetting the cake with
water, I used the small brush to sweep the product
onto my eyelashes. To finish off the face, I
followed up with some liquid blush in a rosy red
shade and moved on to lipstick. So I’m going to put the lipstick
on now and this is NARS Ingrid which is a very, very deep
kind of aborgine berry shade. She added the bold lip and
depending on the type of filming that she was doing,
if she was doing a black and white or a technicolor
production, it was either a red shade or
probably a very darker shade for
black and white. I’ll be honest, when I look back
on Anna May’s filmography many of her roles make
me cringe. She was a concubine, a slave,
a dragon lady meant to instill fear in the
audience. But taking a step back, I
realize that she represents so much more. Anna May Wong made a space
for herself in an industry that was stacked against
her. This is something that
actors of color still face to this day. If you ask me, Anna May Wong
was the ultimate hustler. A woman who leaned into her
Chinese heritage through her makeup and styling choices
to take advantage of an extremely slanted system. She’s very inspiring, I think. People look at her and say,
“This is somebody who really worked against
ferocious odds.” And as bad as racism is now,
it was much, much worse in the 1920s. And yet she actually was able
to be a successful person that we can look at, admire,
and enjoy today. Thanks so much for watching,
guys. Click here to subscribe to
Refinery29. And click here to watch
another video. See ya next time. Bye!

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