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Lucy Liu Pushes Back Against Essay Labeling ‘Kill Bill’ Character an Asian Stereotype

Teen Vogue said Liu's O-Ren Ishii is a contemporary example of the "Dragon Lady," but Liu doesn't exactly see it that way.

Lucy Liu in "Kill Bill"

Lucy Liu in “Kill Bill”

Everett Collection

Lucy Liu used her recent op-ed in The Washington Post to push back against Teen Vogue for calling her “Kill Bill” villain, the Yakuza leader O-Ren Ishii, a recent example of Hollywood’s harmful Dragon Lady Asian stereotype. In an essay titled “Hollywood Played a Role in Hypersexualizing Asian Women,” writer India Roby defines the Dragon Lady as “cunning and deceitful” and a character who “uses her sexuality as a powerful tool of manipulation, but often is emotionally and sexually cold and threatens masculinity.” Roby then cites O-Ren as a contemporary example.

For Liu, calling the O-Ren character a Dragon Lady doesn’t make sense when writer-director Quentin Tarantino populated a lot of “Kill Bill” with similarly-minded female assassins. As Liu asked, “‘Kill Bill’ features three other female professional killers in addition to Ishii. Why not call Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox or Daryl Hannah a dragon lady?”

“I can only conclude that it’s because they are not Asian,” Liu wrote. “I could have been wearing a tuxedo and a blond wig, but I still would have been labeled a dragon lady because of my ethnicity. If I can’t play certain roles because mainstream Americans still see me as Other, and I don’t want to be cast only in ‘typically Asian’ roles because they reinforce stereotypes, I start to feel the walls of the metaphorical box we AAPI women stand in.”

Liu wrote she “feels fortunate to have moved the needle” for Asian and Asian-American actresses in Hollywood. “Hollywood frequently imagines a more progressive world than our reality; it’s one of the reasons ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was so important to me,” she said. “As part of something so iconic, my character Alex Munday normalized Asian identity for a mainstream audience and made a piece of Americana a little more inclusive.”

The actress noted “there is still much further to go,” adding, “Progress in advancing perceptions on race in this country is not linear; it’s not easy to shake off nearly 200 years of reductive images and condescension.” Liu ended the essay with a call to arms: “Exit the Dragon.”

Head over to The Washington Post’s website to read Liu’s op-ed in its entirety.

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