Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, felt uncomfortable and disheartened by Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of her father in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In a new interview, she said Tarantino made him into an “arrogant asshole” and didn’t need to treat him “in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
During one scene in the movie, which takes place in the 1960s film industry, Lee’s character challenges Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth to a fight, and he comes out on top. According to Shannon Lee, her father avoiding fighting with anyone who was not a martial arts expert. To portray him as otherwise plays into racial stereotypes.
“Here, he’s the one with all the puffery and he’s the one challenging Brad Pitt, which is not how he was,” she told The Wrap. “[Bruce Lee] comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air, and not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others. It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theatre and listen to people laugh at my father.”
If anyone can understand the interpretations and spinoffs of Bruce Lee, it’s his daughter. After all, Shannon Lee is president of the Bruce Lee Foundation, CEO of Bruce Lee Entertainment, and an executive producer of Warrior, the new TV show based on one of her father’s unmade projects. She’s interested in raising general awareness of “who Bruce Lee was as a human being” and how he lived life. Bruce Lee is a frequent reference point in the industry for a reason, but he didn’t need to be shrouded in old racist stereotypes in doing so, his daughter explained. “All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal,” she said, “and made my father into this arrogant punching bag.”
“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie. I understand that the two [lead] characters are antiheroes, and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen … and they’re portraying a period that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion. I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super-badass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive,” she added. “What I’m interested in is raising the consciousness of who Bruce Lee was as a human being and how he lived his life. All of that was flushed down the toilet in this portrayal, and made my father into this arrogant punching bag.”
Tarantino hasn’t yet responded to Sharon Lee’s criticism. It’s easy to predict what he will say, though, given he’s been open about his admiration for Bruce Lee in the past. In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman was intentionally dressed in a replica of Lee’s yellow jumpsuit to pay homage to the martial arts expert.
This likely won’t be the last we hear about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino says he’s written and wants to direct a spinoff TV series — with five episodes already in his pocket, to be exact. He hopes to turn it into a black-and-white hour Western show centered around Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton. Given the success of the film and said character, it’s very likely this will turn into a reality.