Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also not happy with Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino has been standing up for the way Lee comes off in his movie, but Shannon Lee, the late martial artist’s daughter, doesn’t want to have anything to do with the situation and wishes the director would just “shut up” about it now. NBA legend and friend of Lee, Abdul-Jabbar is now weighing in on the subject.
First and foremost, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work and knows Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the director’s take on these historic events from 1969. However, when a movie involves real-life people, things can easily end up going bad, which seems to be the case here, according to Shannon Lee and Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar argues that these portrayals creep into our “shared cultural conscience as impressions of those real people.” He went on and had this to say.
“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. This controversy has left me torn. Tarantino is one of my favorite filmmakers because he is so bold, uncompromising, and unpredictable. There’s a giddy energy in his movies of someone who loves movies and wants you to love them, too. I attend each Tarantino film as if it were an event, knowing that his distillation of the ’60s and ’70s action movies will be much more entertaining than a simple homage. That’s what makes the Bruce Lee scenes so disappointing, not so much on a factual basis, but as a lapse of cultural awareness.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes filmmakers have a responsibility when portraying historic figures on the big screen to “maintain basic truth,” and feels Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood “does not live up to this standard.” Abdul-Jabbar knew Lee in real-life and starred alongside Bruce Lee in the actor’s last film, Game of Death and does not feel Tarantino’s version of the character does him justice. He explains.
“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. 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 Bruce Lee situation in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has caused some backlash from fans too, but they did not know the man. “Bruce Lee was my friend and teacher. That doesn’t give him a free pass for how he’s portrayed in movies. But it does give me some insight into the man,” Says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Regardless, the movie has been a hit at the box office and critics have been enjoying it too. Sharon Tate’s sister Debra was not originally into the idea of her late sister being in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She criticized Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio for taking part in the movie. However, Margot Robbie’s portrayal reduced her to tears and she was proud of what Tarantino did with her sister’s legacy.
Related: Once Upon a Time Gives Tarantino His Best Opening, But Can’t Beat The Lion King
Debra Tate even wishes they would have made the movie all about her. However, things did not go that way for the friends and family of Bruce Lee. You can read what else Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had to say about the situation over at The Hollywood Reporter.
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