Sessue Hayakawa was a Japanese Issei actor who starred in American, Japanese, French, German, and British films. Hayakawa was active at the outset of the American film industry. He was the first Asian actor to find stardom in the United States and Europe. He is the first Asian American as well as the first Japanese American movie star and the first Asian American leading man. His "broodingly handsome" good looks and typecasting as a sinister villain with sexual dominance made him a heartthrob among American women, and the first male sex symbol of Hollywood, several years in advance of Rudolph Valentino.
During those early years, Hayakawa was as well known and as popular as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, although today his name is largely unknown to the public.
His popularity, sex appeal, and extravagant lifestyle may have fed tension within segments of American society and led to discriminatory stereotypes and the desexualization of Asian men in American productions, something that continues to today in Modern Hollywood, as exemplified by the controversial character of I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Hayakawa refused to adopt the negative stereotypes.