Former NBA star and film actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined a choir of criticism against director Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of actor Bruce Lee, known for his classic martial arts-based movies, calling the depiction “disappointing” and “disturbing,” according to Huffington Post report.
In his recently released movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a young aspiring Bruce Lee (played by Korean American actor and martial artist Mike Moh) gets into a fight with a stunt double for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rock Dalton character, played by Brad Pitt. In the scene, Pitt makes a quick work of Lee, throwing him into a parked car, leaving a cartoonishly exaggerated dent.
“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,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his column for The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
According to the NBA player, while he knows the movie is fiction and understands that the scene is purportedly exaggerated to show the stunt double’s subjective recollection of the encounter, the scene still depicts Lee incorrectly.
“Filmmakers have a responsibility when playing with people’s perceptions of admired historic people to maintain a basic truth about the content of their character,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
Calling Tarantino’s portrayal of Lee “sloppy” and “somewhat racist,” he says he wished that instead of making the Asian martial artist “just another Hey Boy prop to the scene,” Tarantino had included more details about his career, including “his struggle to be taken seriously in Hollywood,” the discrimination he experienced and his limited career opportunities as an Asian man.
According to the Huffington Post, Lee’s daughter Shannon also made similar comments, saying Tarantino depicted her father as an “arrogant punching bag” in the film.
“It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father,” she said in a recent interview.
The director reportedly defended his work, insisting he did base his portrayal of Lee on a personal recollection of a man he remembered as “kind of an arrogant guy.”
“The way he was talking, I didn’t just make a lot of that up,” Tarantino said, according to Post. “I heard him say things like that, to that effect.”
Still, Tarantino ‘s crew admitted to feeling uncomfortable about the scene. They disclosed that initially it was even more biased against Lee, but the team persuaded Tarantino to change it.
“I had a difficult time choreographing a fight where he lost,” Tarantino’s stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo said. “Everyone involved was like, ‘How is this going to go over?’ Brad was very much against it. He was like, ‘It’s Bruce Lee, man!’”
The movie debuted at the Cannes movie festival this May, and was reportedly met with a six-minute standing ovation, Variety reported at the time. Currently, the movie has scored 85 percent critical score and 70 percent audience score at Rotten Tomatoes.