Published On: Fri, Apr 30th, 2021

Lucy Liu says ‘it’ll take more to end 200 years of Asian stereotypes’ in society and media

Lucy Liu says there is a lot more work to be done in order to eradicate the Asian stereotypes perpetuated by society and the media over the last 200 years.

The actress, 52, penned a powerful opinion piece for the Washington Post, where she reflected on growing up without representation in Hollywood and working to break the ‘cultural box’ for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

‘I feel fortunate to have “moved the needle” a little with some mainstream success, but it is circumscribed, and there is still much further to go,’ wrote Liu.

More to do: Lucy Liu says there is a lot more work to be done in order to eradicate the Asian stereotypes perpetuated by society and the media over the last 200 years; Lucy pictured in 2019

‘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.’

Lucy commenced her essay by giving readers some perspective on what it was like growing up as an Asian American woman with ‘no one on television, in movies, or on magazine covers looked like [her] or [her] family.’

She said the ‘closest I got’ to representation was ‘Jack Soo from Barney Miller, George Takei of Star Trek fame, and most especially the actress Anne Miyamoto from the Calgon fabric softener commercial.

‘Here was a woman who had a sense of humor, seemed strong and real, and had no discernible accent. She was my kid hero, even if she only popped up on TV for 30 seconds at random times.’

Reflecting: The actress, 52, penned a powerful opinion piece for the Washington Post , where she reflected on growing up without representation in Hollywood and working to break the 'cultural box' for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; Lucy pictured in 1997

Reflecting: The actress, 52, penned a powerful opinion piece for the Washington Post , where she reflected on growing up without representation in Hollywood and working to break the ‘cultural box’ for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; Lucy pictured in 1997

‘As a child, my playground consisted of an alleyway and a demolition site, but even still, my friends and I jumped rope, played handball and, of course, reenacted our own version of Charlie’s Angels; never dreaming that some day I would actually become one of those Angels,’ Lucy continued.

The actress famously portrayed the role of Alex Munday in the 2000 film reboot of Charlie’s Angels, also starring Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz. The original Charlie’s Angels, which first premiered on television in 1976, famously featured an all white female cast.

And although she has taken on boundary breaking roles in Hollywood, herself, Lucy is still very much aware that the fight to end Asian stereotypes is far from over.

Fortunate: 'I feel fortunate to have "moved the needle" a little with some mainstream success, but it is circumscribed, and there is still much further to go,' wrote Liu; Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy pictured in 2000

Fortunate: ‘I feel fortunate to have “moved the needle” a little with some mainstream success, but it is circumscribed, and there is still much further to go,’ wrote Liu; Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy pictured in 2000

Dream come true: 'As a child, my playground consisted of an alleyway and a demolition site, but even still, my friends and I jumped rope, played handball and, of course, reenacted our own version of Charlie's Angels; never dreaming that some day I would actually become one of those Angels,' Lucy continued; Lucy pictured in 2000

Dream come true: ‘As a child, my playground consisted of an alleyway and a demolition site, but even still, my friends and I jumped rope, played handball and, of course, reenacted our own version of Charlie’s Angels; never dreaming that some day I would actually become one of those Angels,’ Lucy continued; Lucy pictured in 2000

She went on to compare the current ‘cultural box’ that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find themselves in to that of the literal box used to ‘display’ Afong Moy back in 1834.

‘Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman known to have immigrated to the United States, became a one-person traveling sideshow,’ she began.

‘She was put on display in traditional dress, with tiny bound feet “the size of an infant’s,” and asked to sing traditional Chinese songs in a box-like display,’ Lucy wrote of Moy’s tragic history and how it marked the beginning of a dehumanizing fascination with Asian culture.

‘In Europe, the popularity of chinoiserie and toile fabrics depicting scenes of Asian domesticity, literally turned Chinese people into decorative objects.

Cultural box: She compared the current 'cultural box' that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find themselves in to that of the literal box used to 'display' Afong Moy back in 1834; Lucy pictured in 2019

Cultural box: She compared the current ‘cultural box’ that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find themselves in to that of the literal box used to ‘display’ Afong Moy back in 1834; Lucy pictured in 2019

‘As far back as I can see in the Western canon, Chinese women have been depicted as either the submissive lotus blossom or the aggressive dragon lady.

‘Today, the cultural box Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find themselves in is more figurative than the box Afong Moy performed in, but it is every bit as real and confining.’

Lucy then recalled a recent Teen Vogue op-ed that she stumbled upon ‘examining how Hollywood cinema perpetuates Asian stereotypes highlighted O-Ren Ishii, a character I portrayed in ‘Kill Bill,’ as an example of a dragon lady: an Asian woman who is ‘cunning and deceitful … [who] uses her sexuality as a powerful tool of manipulation, but often is emotionally and sexually cold and threatens masculinity.’ 

She noted that Kill Bill, which was released in 2003 and directed by Quentin Tarantino, also featured ‘three other female professional killers in addition to Ishii,’ which were never characterized as ‘dragon ladies’ by the op-ed’s author. 

Lucy then recalled a recent Teen Vogue op-ed that she stumbled upon 'examining how Hollywood cinema perpetuates Asian stereotypes highlighted O-Ren Ishii, a character I portrayed in 'Kill Bill,' as an example of a dragon lady; Lucy pictured in Kill Bill (2003)

Lucy then recalled a recent Teen Vogue op-ed that she stumbled upon ‘examining how Hollywood cinema perpetuates Asian stereotypes highlighted O-Ren Ishii, a character I portrayed in ‘Kill Bill,’ as an example of a dragon lady; Lucy pictured in Kill Bill (2003)

Why not? '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. 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,' wrote Lucy; aryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu pictured in Kill Bill (2003)

Why not? ‘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. 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,’ wrote Lucy; aryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu pictured in Kill Bill (2003)

‘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. 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,’ wrote Lucy. 

‘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.’ 

Lucy then recalled the unfair treatment endured by actress Anna May Wong, who often ‘lost important roles to White stars in ‘yellowface,’ or was not allowed to perform with White stars due to restrictive anti-miscegenation laws.

‘When Wong died in 1961, her early demise spared her from seeing Mickey Rooney in yellowface and wearing a bucktooth prosthetic as Mr. Yunioshi in the wildly popular Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Iconic: '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,' Lucy wrote of her part in Charlie's Angels; Lucy pictured with Barrymore and Diaz in 2003

Iconic: ‘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,’ Lucy wrote of her part in Charlie’s Angels; Lucy pictured with Barrymore and Diaz in 2003

She noted that ”Hollywood frequently imagines a more progressive world than our reality,’ which is ‘one of the reasons Charlie’s Angels was so important to me.

‘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.’

To close out her piece, Lucy called out the chronic ‘othering’ of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and how stereotyping has put them in danger. 

‘Asians in America have made incredible contributions, yet we’re still thought of as Other.

‘We are still categorized and viewed as dragon ladies or new iterations of delicate, domestic geishas — modern toile. These stereotypes can be not only constricting but also deadly,’ wrote Liu, before referencing to the recent hate-fueled shooting in Atlanta.

Dangerous: To close out her piece, Lucy called out the chronic 'othering' of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and how stereotyping has put them in danger; Lucy pictured in 2019

Dangerous: To close out her piece, Lucy called out the chronic ‘othering’ of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and how stereotyping has put them in danger; Lucy pictured in 2019

‘The man who killed eight spa workers in Atlanta, six of them Asian, claimed he is not racist. Yet he targeted venues staffed predominantly by Asian workers and said he wanted to eliminate a source of sexual temptation he felt he could not control.

‘This warped justification both relies on and perpetuates tropes of Asian women as sexual objects,’ she wrote.

‘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.

‘How can we grow as a society unless we take a brutal and honest look at our collective history of discrimination in America? It’s time to Exit the Dragon,’ the Charlie’s Angels star concluded.

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