‘Before Bruce Lee, There Were Just No Asian American Heroes’

The PBS series Asian Americans, in the episode titled Good Americans, gives screen time to that legendary actor and martial arts fighter Bruce Lee, highlighting his importance in American culture when he emerged in the 1960s.

Writer Jeff Chang, who is currently at work on a biography about Bruce Lee, had this to say about Lee’s rise to stardom in Episode 3 of Asian Americans:

Jeff Chang: The culture is waiting for this moment to shift on its axis. We needed to have at that particular moment somebody who epitomizes the search for truth, for justice. We needed to have somebody who was going to stand up for us.

Before Bruce Lee, there were just no Asian American heroes. For Asian Americans, there was a sense of, finally. Finally there’s somebody up on the screen who is as strong as we are. Somebody that embodies the kind of power you know that we’re capable of.

The celebrity Randall Park of Fresh Off The Boat surely spoke for millions when he put into words just how much Bruce Lee meant to him growing up:

Randall Park: I first saw a Bruce Lee movie when I was a kid, super young, and I remember just being mesmerized by this guy. And I don’t think it was because he was Asian, because he had an Asian face. It was just because he had so much charisma and confidence. I was obsessed with him. I watched his movies over and over again and afterwards wanted to fight my brother, because I wanted to be him.

You can watch the full (but brief) segment on Bruce Lee at the end of Episode 3, Good Americans, for the PBS series Asian Americans (available only to viewers in the US for free streaming until June 9, 2020):

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2 Replies to “‘Before Bruce Lee, There Were Just No Asian American Heroes’”

  1. Thanks for the reminder regarding the PBS series. I’ll definitely watch it. As for Bruce Lee, I spent almost two decades as a New Yorker. One of the favorite things to do was to speak to older folks about their experiences in New York. One that sticks out is a lady by the name of Peggy Chau. She was the owner of Chau’s Martial Arts and later Fighthouse. She told me that Bruce Lee’s emergence in the 70’s was a game changer. His popularity raised the self-esteem of the Asian community. It was a big, big deal.

  2. I was able to visit the Bruce Lee Museum on my last trip to Hong Kong, and I definitely recommend it! The museum was curated in such a way that you really get to see Bruce as a philosopher, martial artist, and actor. He was so beloved in HK that The Green Hornet is still advertised as The Kato Show. I like to think that if Bruce Lee became famous as a young man today he would be marketed as the thinking woman’s sex symbol!

    Speaking of sex symbols, I’m happy to say that my fiance and I are getting married this summer! 😛 We’ve been going back and forth trying to pick a date even before the pandemic, and since we don’t want to wait any longer (our 5 year anniversary is coming up) we’re going to have both a marriage and tea ceremony with close family.

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