Quentin Tarantino’s movies have always been a lighting rod for controversy, and his latest movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no exception. Although the film saw the best opening of any Tarantino movie, not everyone is happy with it. Shannon Lee, the daughter of the late action star and martial artist Bruce Lee, has expressed disappointment with how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood portrayed her father, and that, “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father.”
In the film Bruce Lee, played by Mike Moh, only appears in one scene, where he appears alongside Bradd Pitt’s Cliff Booth on the set of The Green Hornet TV show, which made Lee famous amongst Western audiences. Lee arrogantly boasts of his fighting prowess, which leads to him and Booth engaging in a fist fight which Booth seems to dominate.
According to The Wrap Shannon Lee was not only displeased to see her father portrayed as, “an arrogant a–hole who was full of hot air,” but she also took issue with how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood portrayed race relations. Shannon Lee points out that, as an Asian American living in the 1960s, Bruce Lee, “had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others,” like the movie’s fictional white characters. There’s also the fact that Lee is the only prominent person of color in the movie.
She also explains that she understands, “that the two characters are antiheroes and this is sort of like a rage fantasy of what would happen… and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion,” and “I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee. But they didn’t need to treat him [Bruce Lee] in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
Shannon Lee is not the only person to express disappointment with the movie’s handling of race. A review in The New Yorker explains how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood glossed over the struggles faced by women and people of color in this time period, instead glorifying Hollywood back when it was ruled primary by white men. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has also been criticized for its violent ending and handling of its portrayal of Sharon Tate. It seems just like 1960’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just can’t escape the dark baggage of its past.