The Last Dragon is a cult-classic film that features ridiculous stereotypes flipped on their head. We got to see Chinese men talking like they’re auditioning for the latest blaxploitation film, and Bruce Leroy himself adopt a quiet and quirky kung-fu-master attitude.
With all of the culture swapping going on, my favorite video producer and editor from Splinter, Joon Chung, and I decided to get all dressed up in The Last Dragon fashions and chat with the man himself, Taimak—who played Bruce Leroy—about the thin line between appropriation and appreciation, especially when it comes to black and Asian cultures.
Appropriation takes certain aspects of a culture and makes them a trend or the butt of a joke. Many cultures are inspired by others, but the biggest difference is making sure you attribute said culture and avoid pretending that you created the trend or reference. There’s never been a shortage of black and Asian culture fusion.
Without kung fu culture, there would be no Wu-Tang Clan. We’ve not only seen the black and Asian fusion in The Last Dragon but also, more recently, with Eddie Huang, Kung Fu Kenny (Kendrick Lamar), Jaden Smith’s Neo Yokio and “It G Ma,” and the list goes on and on. Black and Asian cultures appreciate each other. In fact, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon writer and producer James Schamus once said: “Bruce Lee was probably the greatest African-American star of the ’70s. And that culture persists.”
According to Taimak, the movie’s producer (and Motown founder) Berry Gordy wanted black folks to have a hero who wasn’t a reflection of the protagonists of misogynist blaxploitation films. He wanted someone who didn’t embrace violence as a default reaction. He wanted Bruce Leroy to change the narrative of black heroes. And he did. Gordy helped welcome a character who didn’t fit into a particular mold or stereotype, thus finally giving people of color one thing for which we’ve always asked: representation that doesn’t feature us as a monolith.
Check out the above video of Joon and me chatting it up with the ageless Taimak about appropriation, The Last Dragon and his new film, Master, a martial arts epic that takes place during the Mongolian period in ancient China. While Taimak’s crowdfunding campaign has ended, fans can still catch the latest updates through his Instagram.