Shannon Lee: I’m really tired of white men telling me who Bruce Lee was

Kung Fu movie legend Bruce Lee
When Once Upon a Time in Hollywood debuted back in 2019, many, including Bruce’s Lee’s daughter Shannon, criticized Quentin Tarantino’s caricature of Bruce Lee as racist. Of course Quentin being Quentin didn’t GAF and still don’t. In fact, Quentin has gone on to novelize Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and has been on a promo tour for the book. When Quentin appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast to talk about the book, Quentin told Rogan that Shannon has a right to her feelings about the portrayal of her father. Then he brushed the criticism right off. Shannon Lee wrote an open letter to Quentin, posted by The Hollywood Reporter, about her father’s mischaracterization by white Hollywood and Tarantino. Below are a few highlights from The Hollywood Reporter:

As you already know, the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Mr. Tarantino, in my opinion, was inaccurate and unnecessary to say the least. (Please let’s not blame actor Mike Moh. He did what he could with what he was given.) And 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 fucking tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was.

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. I’m tired of white men in Hollywood mistaking his confidence, passion and skill for hubris and therefore finding it necessary to marginalize him and his contributions. I’m tired of white men in Hollywood finding it too challenging to believe that Bruce Lee might have really been good at what he did and maybe even knew how to do it better than them.

I’m tired of hearing from white men in Hollywood that he wasn’t really a martial artist and just did it for the movies. My father lived and breathed martial arts. He taught martial arts, wrote about martial arts, created his own martial art, innovated martial arts training, and refused to compete in martial arts tournaments because he believed combat should be “real.” He had no parallel as a martial artist. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he had no parallel as a martial artist on film, either.

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, or the number of people and communities he continues to inspire and touch with his performances, philosophies, teachings and practices 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, and how he accomplished all of this by the age of 32.

And while we’re at it, I’m tired of being told that he wasn’t American (he was born in San Francisco), that he wasn’t really friends with James Coburn, that he wasn’t good to stuntmen, that he went around challenging people to fights on film sets, that my mom said in her book that my father believed he could beat up Muhammad Ali (not true), that all he wanted was to be famous, and so much more.

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

Shannon went all the way off and I am here for it. I loved everything she said in regard to Bruce. I did not watch Once Upon a Time because of the criticism of their representation of Bruce Lee. I did however watch the scene where Mike Moh played Bruce and I was appalled. Bruce is an icon in the Black community and I grew up loving him. Especially the movies he did with Jim Kelly. The fact that Tarantino dismissed the criticism and basically brushed off Shannon’s anger over how her father was not only portrayed in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but in general tells me that Quentin doesn’t care about facts. He only cares about punching down. It is not lost on me that Quentin wrote Lee as some fake martial artist with an attitude who got his but kicked by a fictitious white man. This imagery probably did not go over Quentin’s head, but Quentin is so out of touch it might have.

I am glad that Shannon is setting the record straight about her father and about the obstacles that Bruce had to overcome. It is infuriating that Shannon had to point out that Bruce was born in the United States, therefore he was American, and that Bruce was instrumental in the international interest in martial arts. I hope Shannon continues to uphold her father’s legacy and I hope that white men like Tarantino in Hollywood can simply learn to just shut the f*ck up.

The Scene:

Kung Fu movie legend Bruce Lee

avalon-0324833948

photos credit: Avalon.red and via Instagram

Related stories

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

74 Responses to “Shannon Lee: I’m really tired of white men telling me who Bruce Lee was”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Nev says:

    Word up I agree.
    STFU please. And sit down. Enough.

  2. Andrew’s Nemesis says:

    QT fetishises people of colour. Look at the appalling job he did of ‘reimagining’ slavery in Django Unchained. He’s a neurotic narcissist, unlikeable and arrogant beyond belief. I’m not surprised that Sharon Lee is angry, but her anger won’t touch him.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      seriously but at the same time, Bruce Lee was super hot. I was in love with him as a teenager. To me, he was the ultimate. The actor here seems really good! But not as hot as Bruce.

      • Sigmund says:

        The man was super hot! He was a bit before my time, so I was reading this article and scrolling through the pictures and about fell out of my chair. Damn. (I’ve clearly never seen his movies, but Shannon did a great job putting Tarantino and all the other white men in their places here.)

      • Digital Unicorn says:

        His son was hotter!!!

      • tealily says:

        Haha, I was going to comment that Tarantino is insufferable, and that Lee was all the things Shannon says he was PLUS smoking hot, but I didn’t want to be seen as making light of any of this. It’s true though!!

    • Digital Unicorn says:

      Let’s not forget how Tarantino styled Thurman in the Kill Bill movies – her in the yellow tracksuit with black stripes is straight out of Enter the Dragon where Lee is shown wearing a yellow tracksuit with black stripes.

      Tarantino has previous for using Lee in his movies, either directly or indirectly.

    • Tarantino is an ass with a big Hollywood footprint. He gets away with it because he’s part of the Hollywood Boys’ Club. I’m glad someone besides Uma Thurman is calling him out on his behavior.

  3. lucy2 says:

    I love every word of this.
    I didn’t watch the movie because I don’t like Tarantino, and the subject was very off putting to me. I didn’t realize that it portrayed Lee in a negative and racist way as well. Awful.

  4. Songs(Oritdidnthappen) says:

    I may be mistaken, but wasn’t Bruce Lee’s appearance in OUATIH entirely in a dream sequence? I didn’t see the movie but I remember reading that Lee was just in Brad Pitt’s dream and wasn’t supposed to be accurate to the real man.

    • ElleV says:

      if it was, that seems like a convenient narrative tool to give Tarantino plausible deniability about racism / inaccuracies in his portrayal

    • Becks1 says:

      I have only seen the movie once, but that was kind of what I remember – that it was a dream because it was basically about how Brad Pitt’s character remembered himself as being better than he actually was – he could never actually beat up Bruce Lee, but it was part of how he imagined himself? IDK. Like i said I saw it once and that was when it came out, so 2 years ago?

      • Becks1 says:

        I want to clarify that the portrayal is definitely racist, even the idea that Bruce Lee was just on film sets challenging extras to fights. I just thought part of the plot was that Brad Pitt’s character could NOT beat someone like Bruce Lee. I honestly can’t remember now the more that I think about it.

        But his character is definitely portrayed as almost a caricature in a very racist way, IdK if that’s the best way to describe it.

    • antanina says:

      no it wasn’t a dream it was shown as a realistic story and it was very racist, bad taste scene.

      • Roo says:

        Yes definitely not a dream sequence. And it made Lee look foolish. Did not like at all. Good for his Daughter. His legacy deserves far better than this interpretation.

      • Jenna says:

        It might’ve been racist, was probably in bad taste, but it was quite clearly the character’s macho Dude-Bro “I coulda totally kicked Bruce Lee’s ass” daydream/fantasy/delusion.

    • Lyds says:

      Dreaming or not, the fact that Tarantino spoke on the record criticizing Bruce Lee for picking fights with stuntmen and having no respect for them (the heck??) meant that he put that scene in to “expose” Bruce and to give him a lesson. It was a stupid scene that the movie could do without; no other real life famous person depicted was shown in such a horrible light, so screw QT and his “twinkle toes” fetish.

  5. ElleV says:

    Amen! Tarantino is a gross ol pevert making big movies for lil white boys. Bruce Lee was a trailblazer, an artist and philosopher and his legacy shouldn’t be diminished.

  6. Yup, Me says:

    Dear Shannon,

    We are all tired of white men.

    Signed,
    Everybody

    • Jamie says:

      LOL!!! My first thought was she could have stopped after “I’m tired of hearing from white men in hollywood”.

    • ElleE says:

      @Yup Me just here to boost your comment and to give props to Bruce Lee’s daughter for talking like this. Any child of a celebrity is going to feel the pull of the public narrative alt the parent, right, wanting to correct it, to own and to steer the narrative
      But it’s gotta hurt 1,0000 more when the narrative of celebrity of color is being hijacked by the “old white guys” off a certain type. They just have to put every POC (and women-just always goes together) in their little box.

    • Jay says:

      My thoughts exactly!

    • 😎👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼, Yup Me. Perfection! 💋

    • Mika enola says:

      Cool, so how about bringing back segregation if white men are so unbearable?

  7. Onemoretime says:

    It’s 2021 and white man gonna white man. I still watch Mr. Lee’s movies whenever I can find one available on streaming services. I really enjoy his movies, the acting is not great but I watch strictly for his martial arts skills.
    Good on his daughter calling out Mr Foot Fetish on his nonsense.

  8. Mika says:

    Good for her. I can’t help but notice that white people (including myself) are quick to judge confident POC for being “arrogant”. We are so uncomfortable, so offended, when the people we oppress refuse to stay low.

    • Anners says:

      That was what I was thinking, too. So what if Bruce Lee was arrogant? I don’t know if he was, but there are thousands of mediocre white men who exude hubris at every pore and they still get work. Bruce Lee was excellent at what he did, and he was a trailblazer. A little arrogance is to be expected.

      We seem to punish women and men of colour for not being oh so grateful that they have an opportunity to be where they ‘don’t belong’. It’s pretty gross and we need to train ourselves to be better.

    • Nina says:

      Tarantino calls *anyone* arrogant. hahahahahahahahaha

  9. Calibration says:

    Tarantino is a narcissist. Bruce Lee was brilliant and everything his daughter said he was. I studied him for decades as I did martial arts. He wrote books, created a new version of martial arts, developed philosophies, was at the forefront of choreography. He was a genius. Tarantino just thinks he’s a genius. I’ve avoided Tarantino movies since the kill bill ones.

  10. Digital Unicorn says:

    Bruce Lee is an icon celebrated across the globe – he was a man who wanted to make a difference and he did. Can’t say the same for Tarantino.

    Bruce Lee was just getting started when he passed – we can only imagine what he could have gone on to do if he has still with us.

    I LOVED his movies as a kid – would like to know more about the man. Does anyone recommend any good biographies?

    • BeanieBean says:

      I don’t know about bios, but a friend of mine who lives in Seattle told me about this: http://www.wingluke.org/single-exhibit/?mep_event=129

    • TheRickestRick says:

      I loved Bruce Lee and his movies so much as a little girl in the 80s that I took karate lessons which was all that was available in the rural Irish town of about 5,000 people I grew up in! You can bet I was the only girl! And it sure shows his international reach too.

    • BnlurNforever says:

      Watch the movie Dragon, his true story, it should point you towards some great resources that will allow you to learn more about him. He was an amazing icon and I know in my parent’s country he was the sh#t and still is.

  11. Anna says:

    Everything she said x 10000000.

  12. GreenBunny says:

    I love how white men are basically whitesplaining to his daughter like they are somehow an expert on a person they never met, but she, who was raised by him until his death, could not actually be an expert on her own parent. It’s like “well, actually, i read one book by someone with an axe to grind so clearly I’m the expert on the person you saw every single day of his life”.

  13. BeanieBean says:

    Shannon Lee’s essay was spot on. I was a kid a the time, but I remember when Bruce Lee movies were all the rage. My brother saw every one ten times over, then would come home & re-enact everything. Finally, as an adult, I watched a Bruce Lee movie on TV & was blown away. The stories, etc., didn’t interest me much, but Bruce on screen was something to behold. It was like watching Gene Kelly. I had no idea anyone was trying to downplay Bruce’s accomplishments, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. QT only wishes he could make such a mark on filmmaking as Bruce Lee did.

  14. JRenee says:

    Good on Shannon for calling QT out! Oh, I’m here for it too!

  15. Watson says:

    Bruce Lee was a genius and his daughter was correct on every point.

  16. Gorgonia says:

    I totally agree. It’s quite obvious Lee’s daughter is right at 1.000.000%, besides as an italian fan of Bruce Lee I would have appreciate a more respectful portrait.

  17. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    That director shouldn’t even be in the same sentence as Bruce Lee. My husband and boys are such incredible stans. They have all his collections, interviews and documentaries it borders obsessive. And for anyone to think Lee wasn’t a real martial artist, well I can’t possibly imagine how they came to that conclusion. They don’t know anything about the man. And he was unparalleled. I’d go so far as to say he continues to be unparalleled.

  18. Soupie says:

    I’ve been tired of white men since I was born, and I’m white. But I understand and accept her points. Not trying to be flip or uncompassionate.

  19. Ann says:

    Damn, good for her.

    My brother-in-law is a martial arts expert, grew up competing, still teaches, etc. He’s a white man who absolutely idolizes Bruce Lee and knows he was the best of the best in the field, an icon. I bet he would have something to say about how QT depicted him in the movie.

  20. Ai says:

    After seeing the first Kill Bill film – I realized that QT fetishized Asian culture/ people and I refuse to watch any of his films after. Shannon is 100% correct and I am glad she publicly called him out multiple times.

  21. Leah says:

    There’s a lot of wrong with “Once upon a time in Hollywood” and Tarantino portraying Lee as an arrogant and obnoxious jerk is a huge part of it. I remember her being so angry about that and it was sad because he’s no longer here to defend himself. The white men of the world need to take several seats and stop white splaining non white cultures that they don’t understand.

    When I was growing up in the 70’s, Bruce Lee was the end of when it came to martial arts. He was “the man with the fist”. Everyone wanted to be him.

  22. Barbiem says:

    100 percent all she said.
    I really loved, loved, lot of his movies.
    Took me a while, sadly to see the stank.
    At first it was hard to skip a Tarantino movie. Now it’s like meh

  23. Willow says:

    Shannon ‘has a right to her feelings’, the new code for ‘women are emotional and unstable’.

  24. Ashton says:

    I felt all her words and I am here for it!!!! I hope she keeps speaking up and putting these people in their place!

  25. serena says:

    We knew already but this further confirmed how much of a a-hole QT is.

  26. Christina says:

    Oya, thank you for writing about this. Bruce Lee is so important. It was so sad when we lost him, and even sadder when his son Brandon died. So much promise. Brandon would have been HUGE if not for the gun accident on set. That family deserves respect.

    Quentin Tarantino should support a real bio pic of Bruce Lee by an Asian-American producer-director. If he wants to make amends, helping to finance or support a great Asian director telling Lee’s real story would be great art and could make a lot of money because of how beloved Lee is.

    • AmB says:

      Quentin Tarantino will never make anything that is not 100% by, for, and about himself and his demographic: over-the-hill, out-of-touch white guys who KNOW they’re smarter and hipper than everyone else.

      In other words, to quote somebody on another thread: guys whose heads are so far up their own rears that surgical intervention would be necessary to extract them.

  27. Carmen says:

    I’m tired of white men — and women — whitesplaining every damn thing.

  28. TheOriginalMia says:

    I’m so glad she gathered all those pasty white men who have disrespected and continue to disrespect her father. Drag them for the filth they are, Shannon!

  29. Premadonna says:

    Im just going to say that I’m SO tired of Quentin Tarantino’s blatant racism in his films being defended as “edgy”, and i was THRILLED to read Shannon Lee’s EPIC comeback to QT’s flippant, ignorant remarks. She REFUSED to let him diminish her father (who btw was WAY more influential than QT could EVER be) and i’m ALL FOR IT!

  30. Jenna says:

    Some have actually countered Shannon’s efforts to protect and defend her father’s legacy by pointing out that she was only four years old when he died.

    Juuuuuust when you think the whitesplaining couldn’t get more vile . . . I mean, Jesus, people.

  31. D says:

    I really think he owes an apology to the Asian American community. It perpetuates these stereotypes that are in the United States. This is a time when Hong Kongs democracy is dead and when he is dragging one of our heroes through the mud to feel good about himself or feel good about America??? Bruce Lee was American but he also grew up in Hong Kong. This scene was just really unnecessary. I don’t know who approved this script but if they talked to Sharon Tates family about this film, they should have talked to Bruce Lee’s. QT doesn’t understand his platform nor care about his message. He should know it’s not all comedy, slapstick, yelling in the wind, there are people who receive his message and agree with racism and subjugation of people of color. There needs to be a petition or something about this. It’s just so disturbing that it’s cool and fun in 2021.

  32. Rita says:

    The portrayal of Lee was gross and racist. Also! Let’s not forget the misogynist scene where Brad Pitt’s character kills his wife with a harpoon because she’s nagging (like women do, right?).

  33. Darla says:

    WOW! Good for her! i love what she wrote and how she wrote it.

  34. Theothermia says:

    Bruce Lee is a legend for a reason 💚

    If a guy you’re dating is a fan of Tarantino – it’s a red flag

  35. Gingerly says:

    Appreciate this post soooo much. QT needs to sit down and stfu. Shannon Lee was spot on w every word. Bruce Lee is an icon, there are facts aplenty about his skills, his impact, his philosophy. QT really thinks he can whitewash all that – uh, no.

  36. Dee Kay says:

    Bruce Lee was an amazing genius, and we are so fortunate that he got into films so we have a record of his talent and skill and heart. He was inclusive in his martial arts training, allowing Black and white and all ethnicities of students to enroll, which really pi**ed off some gatekeepers of kung fu in Hong Kong, and according to some, he had to fight several brutal battles (literally) to establish/defend his right to teach Shaolin-style kung fu to westerners. He adapted the kung fu he learned from the legendary teacher Ip Man into a whole new discipline that became MMA (mixed martial arts). He was not a perfect man, b/c no human is, but he was the kind of athlete and star who did more than work at the top of the game — he pushed out the boundaries of the game and everyone who came after explored the new territories he opened up. Instead of Tarantino’s horrible OUATIH, I encourage ppl to watch Birth of the Dragon (some ppl criticize it for having a central white guy character, but I think of that character as just the audience proxy — average white dude fan of Bruce Lee — while the character of Lee and his opponent, Wong Jack Man, are the clear stars). Or Warrior, which Lee wrote the treatment for long ago, which was recently developed into a fantastic TV series (and which Shannon Lee produces).

  37. Normades says:

    I saw Once… and the idea, the sheer hubris that Brad Pitt’s character could kick his ass…no.

    But why put a link to Tarantino’s movie 🤷🏽‍♀️ lets not link to toxic shizz

  38. Shannon says:

    I didn’t watch that movie either. Tarantino movies are hit or miss for me and I know I was going to miss that one early on.

  39. MsGnomer says:

    I greatly admire Bruce Lee. His ability was exquisite.

    I am sorry QT is a moron who shamed himself with such an ignorant representation of the incredible genius who was Bruce Lee. I never watched QT’s stupid and boring movie starring a stupid and boring BP. Ugh.

    Tangentially, when I was a little white kid watching reruns of “Kung Fu” even then I knew David Carradine was bad casting. To this day I wish Bruce Lee had starred, just so we could have more footage to view.

    Lee was just breath taking.

  40. Sarah says:

    I implore everyone to watch the ESPN 30 for 30 with Bruce Lee called Be Water.

    Also, the scene is dumb because Bruce wouldn’t have ran into Brad’s character. He would have stood right in front of him and with one punch sent him flying. This was clearly done as a caricature of an amazing man and I’m glad that I never saw this movie.

  41. Mika enola says:

    Honestly, the sheer amount of stupidity and ignorance in this comment thread (and in the article) is a thing to behold.