The Chinese American actress, who covers the May issue of Women's Health Magazine, calls the ongoing crimes “terrifying” and “outrageous." The attacks are also making her reflect on the power of words. With a career spanning three decades, the former Charlie's Angels star admits that she was unaware of the world’s perception of her when she started acting.
"When people started to label it as 'dragon lady’ or ‘geisha’ or whatever -- I had to look up ‘dragon lady,’” Liu, 52, says of being objectified or exoticized. “I literally was like, ‘What is this? I don’t even know what that means!’"
Now, she has a stronger stance on the power of labels, explaining, "This proves, without a doubt, that words matter. It clarifies that when violence happens, [it’s because] the seed has been planted through thoughts and words that give people permission to act out their frustrations and anger. People who use [racist] words, or who don't use their words to protect other people, are complicit -- regardless of what side or color you represent in the political atmosphere."
Increasing rates of racial violence against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, which was created in response to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes amid the pandemic, released a report stating that it received 3,795 reports of incidents between March 2020 and February 2021. Last month, a string of shootings involving three Atlanta-area spas took place with eight people killed in the attacks, six of those people being of Asian descent.
"I don’t feel relaxed enough to take my son out without having a plan,” she says of the recent attacks. "I don’t improvise and explore the city, which is the whole point of being in New York City. I was born and raised here. I chose to live in a cosmopolitan place because I feel safer in it. These attacks have really created a vulnerable feeling, not just for me but for so many other people."
Now, for the first time in her career, the Elementary star is using her civic voice. While she's been an ambassador for UNICEF since 2004, what is going on with her community has made her want to speak out more than ever.
"Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to go there,” Liu expresses. "I’m willing to do that because I don’t want other people to feel unsafe. I want some of the people who think this is okay to know that this is not OK."
“If I have a voice and I can use it for the better, and if it can help influence people to go out and vote…" she notes, adding that historically Asian Americans haven’t voted at the same rate as white Americans. “We don’t think our voices matter, and they do."