Shannon Lee hit back Friday after director Quentin Tarantino doubled down on his controversial depiction of her father, martial arts icon Bruce Lee, in his 2019 film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
In a guest column in the Hollywood Reporter, Shannon Lee wrote she is “really f------ tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was” after Tarantino said on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast that while he understands her previous criticism, others who took issue with his interpretation of the legend can “suck a d---.” Tarantino’s depiction was slammed for showing Bruce Lee as an arrogant figure who lost a fight against aging stuntman Cliff Booth.
“While I am grateful that Mr. Tarantino has so generously acknowledged to Joe Rogan that I may have my feelings about his portrayal of my father, I am also grateful for the opportunity to express this: I’m really f------ tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was,” Shannon Lee wrote.
She added: “I’m tired of hearing from white men in Hollywood that he was arrogant and an asshole when they have no idea and cannot fathom what it might have taken to get work in 1960s and ’70s Hollywood as a Chinese man with (God forbid) an accent, or to try to express an opinion on a set as a perceived foreigner and person of color.”
In his interview with Rogan, Tarantino claimed that Bruce Lee had “nothing but disrespect for stuntmen” while on the set of the TV show “The Green Hornet,” citing Matthew Polly’s book, “Bruce Lee: A Life.” But Polly denied his book conveyed such a message, tweeting that Lee was not disrespectful but rather had a different “fight choreography philosophy and style” and had aimed to change American fight choreography “so that the blows would miss by millimeters rather than by feet” and banged up some stuntmen in the process.
“He was always hitting them with his feet, he was always tagging — it’s called tagging when you hit a stuntman for real,” said Tarantino, who never met Bruce Lee, according to Shannon Lee's column. “And it got to be the point where, ‘I refuse to work with him.’”
Shannon Lee wrote that she was frustrated by white men in entertainment who have failed to amplify Bruce Lee’s true reach and impact on an entire film industry and art form.
“I’m tired of white men in Hollywood barely footnoting the impact he had on the action film genre and fight choreography, or the proliferation of and interest in martial arts he sparked globally … while casually downplaying how his accomplishments have lifted spirits and become a source of pride for Asian Americans, communities of color and people around the world,” she wrote.
Daryl Maeda, an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, who’s writing a book on the martial arts icon, affirmed many of Shannon Lee’s thoughts, explaining that Bruce Lee was an underdog in Hollywood as an Asian American and therefore easily dismissed and marginalized. Though he was known to be extremely confident, and described by some as even cocky, such an attitude was necessary given the environment he was attempting to thrive in.
“He had to be supremely self-confident to have a chance,” Maeda said.
He said to truly get Bruce Lee “right,” one must understand the history of discrimination and marginalization that Asian American communities have encountered, as well as their struggle for justice and visibility. He said Tarantino removed Bruce Lee from that context and portrayed only a brief, fictionalized scene “that doesn’t capture the wholeness of his struggle to be seen as fully human.”
“Not every movie portrayal needs to do that, but Asian American representation remains so rare in Hollywood that putting Bruce on screen is a major event, one that will inevitably attract a lot of attention,” he said. “It’s regrettable that Tarantino, who obviously admires Bruce Lee, was unable or unwilling to portray him as a full human being rather than a mere caricature.”
CORRECTION (July 4, 2021, 1 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Daryl Maeda’s title. He is an associate professor, not an assistant professor.