Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is riding high after the director’s biggest opening weekend of his career. And while there have been plenty of thinkpieces written about the movie (as expected from any new Tarantino joint, especially one involving characters who are based on real people), it mostly seems well-liked, earning an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing.
But responses from family members of the real people who are depicted in the movie have been more divisive. Read on to hear how the families of Sharon Tate and Bruce Lee responded to seeing their family members portrayed on screen.
I’ll relay the positive response first. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Debra Tate, the sister of Sharon Tate, explains that she was on set during the scene in which Margot Robbie enters a Westwood theater and watches “herself” (actually the real Sharon) in The Wrecking Crew. “She made me cry because she sounded just like Sharon,” Debra said of Robbie’s performance. “The tone in her voice was completely Sharon, and it just touched me so much that big tears [started falling]. The front of my shirt was wet. I actually got to see my sister again…nearly 50 years later.” She continued:
“[Sharon] was so sweet and so kind, intelligent, and lighter than the air in every way…And Margot did a beautiful job at portraying that.”
Debra was so supportive that she actually lent Robbie “Sharon’s remaining, partially used bottle of perfume and some pieces of her jewelry” for the movie. That’s all very sweet, and it warms my heart to hear that Debra was able to reconnect with her sister in a small way thanks to this movie.
But there’s a family member of a different person who’s depicted in the movie who had the opposite reaction. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, told The Wrap that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s version of Bruce Lee, played by actor Mike Moh, “comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air, and not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”
In the film, stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) remembers back to an incident that got him booted off a TV production. On the set of The Green Hornet (a real show on which Lee played Kato, a martial artist sidekick to the show’s primary hero), the movie imagines a scenario in which Lee is bragging about his fighting ability, and Booth scoffs at him. Lee takes that as a slight and eventually challenges Booth to a friendly fight: an on the spot best-of-three competition seeing who can put the other person on the ground. Lee bests Booth in round one, Booth hurls Lee into the side of a car in round two, and round three is broken up before a winner can be determined, and Booth is instantly kicked off the set.
“I understand they want to make the Brad Pitt character this super bad-ass who could beat up Bruce Lee,” Shannon explained, “but they didn’t need to treat him in the way that white Hollywood did when he was alive.”
Far be it from me to tell a family member how to feel about their father’s portrayal in a movie, but for me, this version of Lee reminds me of this film’s portrayal of Sharon Tate in the way it humanized him and fleshed him out beyond the icon status he holds in pop culture. But that’s just my view from the outside looking in, and I can’t blame Shannon for being a little bummed about how her father came across. Still, I’d like to point readers to this piece about Lee and his career that contextualizes his appearance a bit in this movie, and film critic Walter Chaw has a great thread about this movie’s version of Lee and Asian representation on screen, so I’d encourage you to read the whole thread if you’re interested in more on this topic.
Last thing: portraying Bruce as arrogant (he was), didactic (yep) and hot-tempered (famously) is imminently respectful to the legacy of a man who has been elevated to golden calf status by western idolaters. It made me cry. Lee is my hero because he was imperfect. But he fought.
— Walter Chaw ?? (@mangiotto) July 28, 2019
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