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.