Lucy; a Step Forward for Feminism and a Step Backwards for Orientalism.

Lucy released in 2014 is a science fiction movie about how a white female uses synthesized drugs to release 100% of her brain’s potential. The movie has been accused of Orientalist overlooks.

Orientalism, defined by Edward Said is the west stereotyping cultures and people of the ‘orient’ embodying them as backward, exotic, dangerous and uncivilized. Dating back to colonial era this has been said to justify to the west that these communities needed their guidance and help (Said E, 1969). “The white man’s burden.”

Unfortunately these stereotypes have had negative repercussions for people of vastly different cultures worldwide as they were all grouped together under the ‘orient’ through false cultural impressions.

Lucy features a white female protagonist who lives in China, she is kidnapped by a group of mafia like Chinese men who are portrayed as evil and ‘ninja’ like, also very rich with no regards for human life.  They cut her open and despite her protests, fill her with drugs and give her a fake passport forcing her to smuggle these drugs into Europe. The entire plot is Lucy’s struggle to defeat these evil Chinese men and she ends up massacring almost all of them. This is problematic as too many white protagonists in movies are depicted as heroic for murdering people of different ethnicities.

The ruthless attitude of the Chinese assistants while they appear to be constantly doing inhumane bidding for their boss, also alludes to the stereotype of Asians that their life is dictated entirely by work and as a result they are incapable or uninterested in maintaining relationships. (Taylor C R, Stern B B, 1997)

Similarly, Lucy’s love interests are a white American male and a white Frenchman, despite that the majority of the other characters in the movie are Chinese. Through denying that Lucy could find Chinese men attractive, emphasizes the asexual stereotypes of Chinese males present in media worldwide. Often represented as ‘The Kung Fu Expert’ or ‘The Nerd’ incapable or uninterested in relationships with women (Shimizu C P 2012). This is obviously an obscure misrepresentation but is so common.  What was the last movie you saw where a sexually desirable Asian male protagonist played football and charmed the girl?

To put the icing on the Orientalist cake, in an attempt to seem ‘mystic and exotic’ the directors put Lucy in front of a wall with numerous Chinese symbols depicted, in one of the many kidnap scenes.


Except they serve no purpose to the plot besides setting ominous Asian undertones as they have been translated to say; “Keep Clean. Apple. Scallop and ginger. Orange. Tomato. Grape.”

Almost as if the directors on a multimillion dollar Hollywood budget were unable to find someone who spoke Chinese to write a sentence on the wall, and instead just googled a Chinese restaurant menu.

Orientalism may’ve been invented in the colonial era, yet too many of its stereotypes and connotations have seeped into western media today. The grouping of ‘The Orient’ into the same embodiment leads to misinterpretations and illegitimatizes entire cultures worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Lucy; a Step Forward for Feminism and a Step Backwards for Orientalism.

  1. Melissa Mackay

    I have seen the movie Lucy, and at first glance I did not pick up any of these Orientalist undertones, but now that they have been singled out I cannot help but pay attention. I cannot believe that the directors did not do their research when putting in the Chinese script into a scene! That just proves the blatant disregard for Chinese heritage and proves the film stereotypes Asian culture and history. You make your point very clear and portray your ideas using great examples, a great read!

    1. dominiquegaitt Post author

      Thanks Melissa! I also saw Lucy a while ago and thought it was a great movie that was really well thought out. It wasn’t until you look past the plot and examine what the movie is actually telling you that you realise just how much disregard for other cultures movie directors can have. I’m glad you liked my post!


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