In an open letter penned for the Hollywood Reporter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is speaking out about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s problematic portrayal of Bruce Lee. The NBA legend was a close friend of the late actor and believes Quentin Tarantino was sloppy, somewhat racist and shirked his responsibility in the film’s one-dimensional portrayal of Lee.
Jabbar stressed that he has been an ardent fan of Tarantino’s films which is why he finds this “lapse of cultural awareness” so disappointing. “During our years of friendship, [Bruce] spoke passionately about how frustrated he was with the stereotypical representation of Asians in film and TV,” Jabbar states, explaining that in its depiction of the martial arts pioneer the film “harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle.”
“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 writes. “Even though we know the movie is fiction, those scenes will live on in our shared cultural conscience as impressions of those real people, thereby corrupting our memory of them built on their real-life actions.”
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This is not the first time Tarantino’s depiction of Bruce Lee has come under fire, many already criticized the uppity caricature of the actor, including Lee’s widow and daughter.