Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Bruce Lee’s portrayal was ‘sloppy and somewhat racist way’ in Tarantino’s movie

Bruce Lee Kareem Abdul Jabbar

There has been a lot of discussion on Bruce Lee’s portrayal in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. Shannon Lee, the daughter of Bruce Lee, was not happy about it and attacked Quentin Tarantino’s approach to the martial arts legend. Tarantino defended his film by saying Lee was kind of an arrogant guy. Now we have one of Bruce Lee’s friends and costars, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, responding by defending Lee’s honor.

“Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does not live up to this standard,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his THR piece about a filmmaker’s responsibility in capturing the basic truth of a historical figure. “Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being.”

Abdul-Jabbar is a fan of Tarantino’s works, and that’s why he feels at odds.

“This controversy has left me torn,” Adul-Jabbar continued. “Tarantino is one of my favorite filmmakers because he is so bold, uncompromising and unpredictable.”

The former NBA star does mention how the scene could be interpreted as the main character’s wild imagination as a badass.

“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.”

In the end, he wants to let people know about the Bruce Lee he knew firsthand.

“I was in public with Bruce several times when some random jerk would loudly challenge Bruce to a fight,” he added. “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.”

The controversy first gained steam when Shannon Lee shared her thoughts on the matter.

“I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon Lee said. “But they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”

Tarantino defended his version of Bruce Lee.

“Bruce Lee was kind of an arrogant guy,” Tarantino said. “The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up. I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, ‘Well, he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,’ well, yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. … She absolutely said it.”

Shannon fired back with annoyance.

“He could shut up about it,” Lee told Variety. “That would be really nice. Or he could apologize or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.'”

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John Nguyen
John Nguyen 10222 posts

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