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Lucy Liu
Kill Bill (2003)

Lucy Liu slams essay labelling her Kill Bill character an Asian stereotype

The actor has spoken out against an essay that uses her character as an example of Hollywood’s Dragon Lady Asian stereotype

Lucy Liu has defended her Kill Bill character against criticism of it being an Asian stereotype.

Liu played the role of yakuza leader O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 cult film Kill Bill: Volume 1. The character was recently used in a Teen Vogue article as a modern example of Hollywood’s Dragon Lady Asian stereotype.

In an essay titled Hollywood Played a Role in Hypersexualising Asian Women, writer India Roby defines the Dragon Lady as someone who “uses her sexuality as a powerful tool of manipulation, but often is emotionally and sexually cold and threatens masculinity”.

Liu responded to the criticism in an op-ed for The Washington Post, where she argued that calling O-Ren a Dragon Lady doesn’t make sense considering the film “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,” sais Liu. “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 (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) women stand in,” she added.

Liu also commented on discrimination in the industry, saying that she feels “fortunate to have ‘moved the needle’ a little with some mainstream success” but added there is “still much further to go”.

“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 of the noughties film trilogy in which she starred alongside Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore.

“As part of something so iconic, my character Alex Munday normalised Asian identity for a mainstream audience and made a piece of Americana a little more inclusive.”

Liu added that the categorisations of Asian-Americans as “dragon ladies or new iterations of delicate, domestic geishas” can be “not only constricting but also deadly”. She referenced the mass-shooting in Atlanta, which took place in March at three Asian-run businesses in the city. Six of the eight victims were Asian women and four were of Korean descent.

Liu wrote that the shooter “targeted venues staffed predominantly by Asian workers and said he wanted to eliminate a source of sexual temptation he felt he could not control”. She added: “This warped justification both relies on and perpetuates tropes of Asian women as sexual objects.”

“This doesn’t speak well for AAPIs’ chances to break through the filters of preconceived stereotypes, much less the possibility of overcoming the insidious and systemic racism we face daily,” she concluded.

You can find a list of anti-Asian hate resources and organisations to support here.