Lucy Liu Reflects on How Her 'Charlie's Angels' Role 'Normalized Asian Identity' for Fans
By Paige Gawley
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Lucy Liu believes there's a lot more work to do when it comes to Asian representation in Hollywood. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the 52-year-old actress reflects on the impact of her role of Alex Munday in Charlie's Angels and shares what more needs to be done.
Liu begins her essay by recalling her childhood, writing, "When I was growing up, no one on television, in movies, or on magazine covers looked like me or my family." The exceptions, Liu notes, were Jack Soo, George Takei and commercial star Anne Miyamoto, whom she considered a "hero."
While she didn't see herself onscreen, Liu still soaked up pop culture as a child, so much so that she acted out Charlie's Angels with her friends, "never dreaming that some day I would actually become one of those Angels."
Liu writes that her eventual starring role in the franchise certainly "moved the needle" of representation, but notes that "it is circumscribed, and there is still much further to go."
"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," she writes, before referencing examples of Chinese women being "depicted as either the submissive lotus blossom or the aggressive dragon lady."
The role in Charlie's Angels, Liu writes, was "so important" to her, because it was one example of how "Hollywood frequently imagines a more progressive world than our reality."
"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," she writes.
Liu additionally explains how O-Ren Ishii, her role in Kill Bill, is just one example of "the cultural box Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders find themselves in." Her assassin role, Liu writes, was "an example of a dragon lady," despite the three other female killer roles in the flick.
"Why not call Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox or Daryl Hannah a dragon lady?" she questions of her co-stars in the 2003 film. "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."
"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 continues.
That box, Liu writes, is just one example of how, despite the fact that "Asians in America have made incredible contributions," they're "still thought of as Other."
"We are still categorized and viewed as dragon ladies or new iterations of delicate, domestic geishas -- modern toile," she writes. "These stereotypes can be not only constricting but also deadly."
Liu concludes her op-ed by writing about the March spa shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of whom were of Asian descent.
"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," she writes. "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," Liu continues. "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."