As cities across the US burn through the night, engulfed in protests that devolve into riots and looting, we invariably find ourselves back at square one when it comes to modern culture: we collectively preach inclusivity, tolerance and acceptance for all walks of life, be it race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. But the reality in 2020 is different. We are still a world divided by colour, marred by religious intolerance and unable to accept those who are different than us. The death of African-American George Floyd, an unarmed man suspected of using a counterfeit bill who had the life choked out of him by a white police officer, has brought racial tensions back to the surface. It’s no surprise then that the second trailer for ESPN ’s 30 for 30 on Bruce Lee, titled Be Water , which will be released this Sunday, showcases his struggles as a Chinese-American actor and the racism he encountered throughout his career. The most telling one, and one that also exhibits our progress as a society, revolves around Lee’s original treatment for a show called Warrior . Lee had the idea decades ago, a period drama and action show about a martial arts fighter set in America’s Old West. When Lee pitched it to Hollywood executives in the early 1970s, he had already made a name for himself in the TV show The Green Hornet , which aired from 1966-67. Lee was also the Jeet Kune Do teacher and friend of some Hollywood heavy-hitters like James Coburn and Steve McQueen. He was a superstar all over Asia, but in North America he was still seen as a sideshow, sidekick or token casting decision. The entertainment elite weren’t having any of it, or they weren’t comfortable making Lee a leading man in the white male dominated Hollywood landscape. The bottom line was the system and infrastructure in place either didn’t want a Chinese man plastered across its billboards, or didn’t think they could pull it off. No matter how you slice it, this was racist. But to add insult to injury, a few years later American David Carradine appeared in the TV show Kung Fu , in which he played a mixed race martial arts fighter who wanders the western US looking to reconnect with his family’s roots. Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, along with Shannon Lee, who now controls her father’s estate, had long floated the idea that Warner Bros stole the storyline from Lee’s initial pitch. But it wasn’t until Shannon went through some old archival material that the truth became clear, unearthing the original treatment which has multiple parallels to Kung Fu . Lee himself spoke about the failed TV series in his famous Pierre Berton interview, filmed here in Hong Kong. Berton asked Lee straight up if race was playing a part in his celebrity subjugation. “Well, such a question has been raised, in fact, it is being discussed. That is why Warrior is probably not going to be on. They think that business-wise it is a risk. I don’t blame them. If the situation were reversed and an American star were to come to Hong Kong, and I was the man with the money, I would have my own concerns as to whether the acceptance would be there.” Lee’s admission that Western audiences would revolt against a Chinese star leading an American television series in the 1970s speaks to where we were decades ago. We have come a long way since then and there is a happy ending to this story. Last year Cinemax debuted a show called Warrior , based on Lee’s treatment, backed by Shannon, and spearheaded in part by Justin Lin, one of the world’s most famous movie directors of Asian descent. Lin, who was born in Taiwan and raised in the US, has directed multiple instalments in the lucrative Fast & Furious franchise. Warrior doesn’t just have Asian actors, it features an Asian ensemble cast which includes Hong Kong’s own Jason Tobin in a major role. Season two of Warrior is expected to be released on Cinemax in the autumn. Warrior should have been made decades ago, but is only seeing the light of day some 50 years later. Progress can at times feel glacial, but in other ways it appears as a lightning strike. The death of George Floyd has once again reminded us we have a long way to go in wiping racism from our collective mindsets, but Warrior in part shows us there remains ample opportunities to right some wrongs along the way. But as Be Water gets set to hit screens across the world on Sunday, difficult questions about the past need to be asked. As we get set to take a trip down memory lane with Lee once again, the question is not how famous he was, but how famous could he have been? Lee’s iconic status still shined bright, even though he endured setbacks because of his Chinese heritage. This is a testament to the type of man he was and the type of society we live in: racism still walks our streets today and even our larger than life personalities, icons of eras, were not immune to its reach.