Lucy Liu has been in the industry for over three decades. She has broken down many barriers and helped pave the way for younger generations of Asian actors.
However, her roles have also been criticized for perpetuating negative Asian stereotypes. A 2021 Teen Vogue Item called O-Ren Ishii – the character Lucy played in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 – an example of the dragon lady trope. This has been defined as an Asian female character who is “cunning and insidious” and “uses her sexuality as a powerful tool of manipulation, but is often emotionally and sexually cold and threatening to masculinity”.
This backlash is nothing new. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, her portrayal of Ling Woo in Ally McBeal was too called out for playing in the dragon lady trope.
Well, Lucy revealed all of this in a recent interview with The cut. When asked if she’s conflicted about these roles being celebrated and criticized at the same time, she said, “I think it’s really prescribed and defines something from another time. There is no way to win. It’s not what I got myself into.”
“I happen to be Asian. I like that Ling was surefooted and funny because she was so sure of herself. I don’t know that she always made the best decisions, but she thought she did, and that’s okay,” she continued.
“With kill Bill, the bottom line is there were other women doing the same thing, so why pull out my character as an example? You take any character and swap it out and make it Asian, and people were like, ‘Oh, they did that over there.’”
When asked if it hurts that it’s usually an Asian writer who covers her “problematic” Hollywood story, she replied, “That’s their opinion and how they feel. They feel like we’re not far enough and they want me as an example of what’s not far enough. That’s okay.”
“I published the work. Not everyone will like it. I’m sure there are tons of people who don’t like my work or my career or who don’t like me. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I don’t want to date someone who doesn’t want to date me. You want to convince someone to love you, but the choice is their prerogative.”
Lucy pointed out the positive portrayal of Alex Munday in Charlie’s Angelwhere her character’s name was not changed to match her Chinese identity, yet she was able to “embody” the character with her “history and culture”.
“The main point was that you had to do things that were conventionally significant to smash the ceiling. Charlie’s Angel was such a big step because it was such a big piece of Americana. It was an important distinction to have Alex Munday instead of Alex Woo just to show the story,” she said.