The NBA legend charges Tarantino’s film with disrespecting the legacy of his friend and mentor.
In an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter, Abdul-Jabbar detailed his ambivalence in watching the “sloppy” and “somewhat racist” depiction of his dear friend and early mentor in a movie by one of his “favorite filmmakers.” He adds, “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.”
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The NBA legend takes particular issue with the omission of Lee’s struggle as an actor, writer, and filmmaker, attempting to dismantle Asian stereotypes on the big screen:
“That’s why it disturbs me that Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way. The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle. Of course the blond, white beefcake American can beat your fancy Asian chopsocky dude because that foreign crap doesn’t fly here.”
READ: “Bruce Lee Was Kind Of An Arrogant Guy” – Quentin Tarantino Defends Bruce Lee Portrayal in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Abdul-Jabbar’s critique echoes that of Lee’s family and close acquaintances since the film’s release. In an interview with The Wrap, Lee’s daughter, Shannon, railed against the film for portraying him as “an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air, and not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”