1914 - 1970

Openly lesbian filmmaker Esther Eng was born in San Francisco on September 24, 1914. At 19, she cajoled her father and his business associates to form a film production company and name her as the producer. Around this time she altered her surname from Ng to Eng. She journeyed to Hong Kong to attend the premiere of “Heartache” (1936), a film she produced, and chose to remain there to make the feminist film “National Heroine”, about a female Chinese fighter pilot in the war against Japan who gives her life for her country. The film’s success prolonged her stay for two more years during which she made four more films including “Women’s World”, featuring an all-female cast and showcasing 36 women in various professions. Given the era, it is surprising that Eng’s lesbianism was rarely an issue; she dressed in men’s attire, was open about her relationships, and enjoyed positive press in the Hong Kong media. A Sing Tao Daily News reporter even called Eng “living proof of the possibility of same-sex love.” She returned to San Francisco in 1939 and began distributing Chinese films in Central and South America. In 1941, she became the first female to direct a Chinese-language film in the U.S. with “Golden Gate Girl.” The following year she released another film and formed her own production company, Silver Light. In 1949, Eng directed two films about inter-cultural and inter-racial relationships: “Too Late For Springtime,” about a Chinese girl’s relationship with a Chinese American GI; and “Mad Love Mad Fire”, about a mixed-race woman and a Chinese sailor. Though mostly feminist in theme, Eng’s woman-centered films tended to be romantic dramas. By the 1950s, she had stopped making films and relocated to New York where she became a restaurateur, eventually owning five eateries in Manhattan. Eng died of cancer at the age of 55 on January 25, 1970. Though all but two of her films have been lost, her groundbreaking cinematic contribution has been celebrated in recent years – including a documentary about her, “Golden Gate Silver Light”, premiered at the Hong Kong Film Festival in April 2013.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Rim

Nations Affiliated United States Hong Kong SAR China

Era/Epoch Cold War (1945-1991)

Field(s) of Contribution




Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell