Welcome to the first installment of “How I Got Radicalized,” a new series at GEN that tells a story about a cultural moment — a TV show, commercial, character, song, book, musical, etc. — that made you drastically rethink how society works. Here’s how you can pitch us.
For an East Asian American girl of a certain age, there is everyone else, and then there is Lucy Liu. I don’t mean this as a deep cross-examination of the lack of representation in Hollywood, but rather as a simple fact of life. I experienced time before I first saw Lucy Liu on-screen as some sort of amorphous blur; afterward, my life crystallized, organizing itself into a single, essential question: Do I want to be Lucy Liu, or do I want her to step on me?
My first encounter with Lucy Liu was when I was eight years old. At the time, I was living in rural New York and carefully creating a “personality” around the fact I was the only person who brought salmon rice balls for lunch. The few friends I had were all boys; my passion was birds of prey. It was during this time of my life when Lucy Liu appeared, starring alongside Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz in the 2000 remake of Charlie’s Angels, a movie that I understood to be about friends having fun. Unlike most people my age, it was also one of my first formative radicalizing moments, in all manners of the word.
One scene from the movie burned into my memory. It occurs in the first hour, when the Angels try to break into a company to steal some important technology. (The themes lightly touch on the burgeoning surveillance state, but the movie doesn’t try too hard to say too much.) To help cause a distraction, Lucy Liu poses as a corporate consultant — an “efficiency expert,” to be exact, something I assumed at the time all companies must have. She marches into the office dressed in a black leather “business” suit, with Barrymore and Diaz in drag standing on either side of her. Heart’s “Barracuda” sets the stage; a leather riding crop in Lucy Liu’s hand serves as Chekhov’s gun in the sense, of course, that you…