Audiences of Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon have criticised the film’s portrayal of the martial arts star, as well as the extent to which it relegates his story below that of a white co-star.
Written by Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J Rivele, who scripted the Will Smith starring biopic of Muhammad Ali as well as Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, the film is said to use Lee’s notorious private fight with Wong Jack Man as the starting point for a mafia thriller.
However, IMDb users who have seen the film protest that it actually focuses on a fictional white friend, Steve McKee, who learns kung fu and romances a Chinese woman.
Bawlife wrote: “[The] film reduces Bruce Lee to a side character in his own story to force a white guy into the lead … Asian males can never take the lead role. Only the sidekick even in their own movie … White people, would it kill you to stop inserting yourselves into everything?”
Fellow IMDb user chrisleeisworking contributed: “The director has turned Bruce Lee into a caricature. This is spitting on the memory of Bruce Lee. As a loyal fan of Bruce Lee and as an Asian, this film seriously offends me.”
A second Lee movie is currently in development, spearheaded by Lee’s daughter, Shannon.
Announcing her project, she said: “There have been projects out there involving my father but they’ve lacked a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry. They haven’t captured the essence of his beliefs in martial arts or storytelling. The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material.”
The whitewashing controversy surrounding Birth of a Dragon comes in the wake of a similar backlash to the news that Scarlett Johansson was to take the lead in anime adaptation Ghost in the Shell, while the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One (a Tibetan man in the comics) has also meant Doctor Strange has come in for criticism.
On Tuesday, Disney vowed to cast a Chinese female actor in the lead of their upcoming live-action remake of Mulan.