I know what you’re all thinking. After hearing from Bruce Lee’s daughter and Quentin Tarantino about the portrayal of the legendary martial artist, you were desperate to hear from NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about whether or not it was disrespectful, right? Well, lucky for you, that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about. And in all honesty, he does add some interesting points to the discussion.
THR recently published a piece from Abdul-Jabbar, and he said that the way Bruce Lee was rendered in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was “sloppy and somewhat racist.”
Abdul-Jabbar goes on to discuss how Lee fought vehemently to change the way Asians were treated in film. Oftentimes, females were treated as subservient sex objects while men were treated as “sexless accessories.”
“That’s why it disturbs me that Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way. The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle. Of course the blond, white beefcake American can beat your fancy Asian chopsocky dude because that foreign crap doesn’t fly here.”
But perhaps the scene in question wouldn’t be so controversial if it wasn’t the only one of substance that featured Lee (whose only other scenes are some quick action shots of him training Sharon Tate).
“I might even go along with the skewered version of Bruce if that wasn’t the only significant scene with him, if we’d also seen a glimpse of his other traits, of his struggle to be taken seriously in Hollywood. Alas, he was just another Hey Boy prop to the scene. The scene is complicated by being presented as a flashback, but in a way that could suggest the stuntman’s memory is cartoonishly biased in his favor. Equally disturbing is the unresolved shadow that Cliff may have killed his wife with a spear gun because she nagged him. Classic Cliff. Is Cliff more heroic because he also doesn’t put up with outspoken women?”
Okay, but what about the supposed arrogance of Lee? Just because he fought for some admirable things doesn’t necessarily mean he was so flawless that he evades arrogance, right?
“I was in public with Bruce several times when some random jerk would loudly challenge Bruce to a fight. He always politely declined and moved on. First rule of Bruce’s fight club was don’t fight — unless there is no other option. He felt no need to prove himself. He knew who he was and that the real fight wasn’t on the mat, it was on the screen in creating opportunities for Asians to be seen as more than grinning stereotypes. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood prefers the good old ways.”
So what do you think? Does Abdul-Jabbar make some good points? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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