"Bruce Lee was my friend and teacher"
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has slammed Quentin Tarantino’s ‘racist’ Bruce Lee depiction in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
As well as being a basketball hero, Abdul-Jabbar is also a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. In his latest piece titled ‘Bruce Lee Was My Friend, and Tarantino’s Movie Disrespects Him’, Abdul-Jabbar described how the Django director failed in his representation of the martial arts legend.
“Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants,” the 72-year-old wrote. “But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being.”
Lee and Abdul-Jabbar shared screen time in 1978’s Game Of Death in which the duo fought against each other. “Bruce Lee was my friend and teacher,” Abdul-Jabbar writes.
Abdul-Jabbar’s piece comes on the back of Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee’s seemingly ongoing feud with Tarantino.
In July, Lee slammed Tarantino for making a “mockery” of her father in his latest film.
Tarantino defended his film from criticism by saying the Hong Kong martial arts star was “kind of an arrogant guy”.
Lee responded by saying Tarantino “could shut up” about her father’s portrayal.
In the film, Lee (Mike Moh) is beaten up by Brad Pitt’s semi-retired stuntman character Cliff. Discussing the scene, Tarantino defended why the martial arts master would lose to Cliff.
“Brad (Pitt) would not be able to beat up Bruce Lee but Cliff maybe could,” he said. “If you ask me the question, ‘Who would win in a fight: Bruce Lee or Dracula?’ It’s the same question. It’s a fictional character. If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he’s a fictional character so he could beat Bruce Lee up. The reality of the situation is this: Cliff is a Green Beret. He has killed many men in WWII in hand-to-hand combat.”
However, Abdul-Jabbar disagreed with the assessment, writing that the scene showcases stereotyping.
“The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff … an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“That’s why it disturbs me that Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way,” he added.
The damage does not stop there. For Abdul-Jabbar, Tarantino failed to uphold how Lee should be remembered by audiences.
“That’s why 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,” he wrote. “Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ does not live up to this standard.”
Elsewhere in the article, Abdul-Jabbar highlighted how Lee fought against the negative representation of Asians in the media.
“Bruce was dedicated to changing the dismissive image of Asians through his acting, writing and promotion of Jeet Kune Do, his interpretation of martial arts,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
In related news, Tarantino recently claimed that Kung Fu Panda was a “parody” of Kill Bill.