DOWNTOWN — Her name is Shannon Lee but many might know her as Bruce Lee’s daughter.
And she doesn’t really mind that facet of her identity one bit.
Yet Lee, 40, is making her own claim to fame in the entertainment industry, founding a new production company — Leeway Media — in July 2008 and celebrating its first major project in the United States, a documentary about her legendary father, titled, “How Bruce Lee Changed the World.”
“It’s not your straight bio,” Lee said from her Santa Monica office on Monday. “It’s really about what areas Bruce Lee has influenced in terms of our culture today.
“It looks at martial arts, action, filmmaking, fitness and body building.”
The film, which will premiere on the History Channel on May 17, was produced by Waddell Media and Leeway Media, which was founded to create content meant to promote both Bruce and his son, Brandon Lee, who died in an accidental shooting on the set of “The Crow” in 1993.
She vividly remembers the day when her mother called in the middle of the night telling her that Brandon Lee had been involved in an accident. The two departed for North Carolina, meeting up in Dallas.
As they traveled throughout the day, the family learned that the actor’s condition was worse than originally believed.
By the time the plane touched down in North Carolina, Brandon Lee had died.
Lee said she is starting to work on projects to educate the public about her brother.
The reach that their father had is evident in the Downtown Santa Monica office of Bruce Lee Enterprises, which manages the trademarked brand name of the late actor. Along the walls are old movie posters. Magnets with Lee’s famously concentrated stare are scattered on the mini fridge. On the wall of one office are Andy Warhol-esque pictures of Lee, while the common area is occupied by a large cutout of Lee performing a side kick. Posted on the fridge along with the magnets are four block letters spelling out Wren, the name of Shannon’s 6-year-old daughter.
“I thought it would be great for people to know how my father had influenced so many different things,” Shannon Lee said. “So many know him as an action film star. They don’t know how he had to break down barriers of race and tradition to do what he did in such a short time.”
Lee and his late son also had a profound impact on Shannon, who has acted, sang and is now getting into the behind-the-scenes portion of the entertainment industry.
“I look at all the messages in my father’s philosophies that have help ground me and guide me,” she said. “I look at my brother’s life and how he was so passionate about acting.”
Included in her resume is a singing career. A graduate of Tulane University where she received a degree in vocal performance and music, Lee has performed concerts in Hong Kong, sang on a variety of films and even once landed a demo deal with a subsidiary of Island Records.
For the past few years, Lee’s professional focus has been geared toward several projects, including the production company, the licensing of the Bruce Lee name, and the Bruce Lee Foundation which she cofounded in 2002 with her mother, Linda Lee Cadwell. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to perpetuating the Lee legacy in an educational way, holding seminars on martial arts and offering scholarships. The eventual goal of the foundation is to build a museum.
In her regular life, she’s Shannon Lee, but when it comes to events and going out in public, she understands that she is the famous martial artist’s daughter.
“I think that there was more of a difficulty in terms of feeling like there was some expectation of me from certain people and in certain areas of life,” she said. “I try to really hold all of that in a very separate place for myself.”
Lee is also working on other projects related to her father, including preparing for the official upcoming launch of BruceLee.com in June and the annual convention hosted by the Bruce Lee Foundation, which is scheduled for November in the Sheraton Universal Hotel.
A number of pieces have come out about Bruce Lee since his death, some good, some sensationalistic, looking to “stir the pot,” Lee said.
She remembers the media coverage shortly after her father’s last film, “Enter the Dragon,” was released, her mother endlessly spending time writing rebuttals to articles in newspapers and magazines about Lee.
“I found she was spending her whole life doing that and not anything else and it was just sucking the energy out of her,” Lee said. “The best way for me to combat anything like that is to do my thing and to do what I do and put out the products that I put out.”