Disney recently assuaged viewers’ anxieties by announcing that its upcoming live-action remake of “Mulan” will not be another example of whitewashing. The same apparently can’t be said of “Birth of the Dragon,” a Bruce Lee biopic receiving criticism for the inclusion of a fictional white character alongside its subject. Michael London, one of the film’s producers, has responded to the controversy by saying that “no one had the intention to do anything other than celebrate Bruce Lee, at a time when east and west are opening up to each other in a profound way.”
“Birth” presents a portrait of the martial artist as a young man. Billy Magnussen plays the invented character, who helps facilitate a now-famous 1964 fight between Lee and his revered instructor Wong Jack Man. Speaking about the footage, which was shown as part of a promo reel for potential buyers during last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, London continues:
“It was made primarily to allow distributors to see the film as a marketable proposition. From a Hollywood standpoint, ‘Birth of the Dragon’ looks like a foreign film: It has a largely Asian cast, it was financed by Asian financiers, there’s only a single white actor. What’s so funny was that, while we have been accused of tokenism over the portrayal of Asian characters, during the making of the movie we were concerned about tokenism for the exact opposite reason, because we only had one white character.”
“Birth of a Dragon,” which was directed by George Nolfi and stars Philip Ng as Lee, does not yet have an official release date.