The focus was on the “Oscars So White” controversy at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, with host Chris Rock making frequent references to the absence of African Americans among the 20 actors nominated for leading and supporting roles.
But all the talk of diversity struck many Asian Americans and other observers as hypocritical when a joke was made about Asians.
Making the traditional announcement that the results had been tabulated by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rock said, “They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives. Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.”
Instead of actual accountants, three Asian kids wearing tuxedos walked on stage.
“If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” Rock said.
On Facebook, Daniel Mayeda of Asian Pacific American Media Coalition said he admires Rock for taking a stand on racism in Hollywood, “but to completely ignore that Latinos and Asian Americans are part of #OscarsSoWhite displays nearly as much willful blindness as Hollywood executives.
“And then to spend time on a desperately unfunny Asian/child labor/accountants/iPhone makers joke was a slap in the face.”
Mayeda discussed his concerns on KPCC’s “The Frame” on Tuesday.
The Washington Post ran a commentary by Jessica Contrera headlined, “If the Oscars were all about diversity, why the crude Asian joke?”
Rebecca Sun wrote a piece titled “Oscars: Why Make Cheap Jokes at the Expense of Asians?” for The Hollywood Reporter.
“Angry Asian Man” blogger Phil Yu wrote, “We do not belong here. We are comic props. We are a punchline. That seems to be the message.
“Rock had the unenviable challenge of hosting the night’s festivities while trying to address the Academy’s perpetual shutout of black nominees. It was a mixed bag, with the ceremony bending over backward to cram DIVERSITY DIVERSITY DIVERSITY into the proceedings, while having no clue what actual diversity really means. Actual diversity is hard.
“But at the very, very least, it means perhaps avoiding dehumanizing, stereotypical jokes at the expense of Asian kids on national f—ing television.”
/Film blogger David Chen wrote, “Thanks, Chris Rock! The reminder that young Chinese people in slave labor conditions help to build our smartphones really takes the edge off of knowing that you still feel the need to fall back on Asian stereotypes to get a laugh.”
“Views from the Edge” blogger Ed Diokno wrote, “Host Chris Rock and the writers apparently see the world in black and white. In show dominated by talk about diversity – or the lack of it – there was hardly any mention of Latinos or Asians. Only because the movie ‘Revenant’ was nominated for best picture did Native Americans get mentioned.
“But we cringed when Rock (or the writers) introduced the accountants from Price Waterhouse. Out came three Asian youngsters, perhaps 5-8 years old, thus playing up the stereotypes of child exploitation and math proficiency.
“The celebrity-filled audience, perhaps a little sensitive because of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, laughed nervously.
“Yeah, I know, Chris Rock loves to make people uncomfortable and maybe I’m making too much out of nothing. I still cringed.”
On The Huffington Post, Anthony Berteaux wrote, “Here we have an unfortunate and outrageous case where a black comedian, in the midst of his crusade to skewer Hollywood for being racist and exclusionary towards people of color, went on stage to millions of American viewers and made fun of three Asian children on the sole basis of their race.
“The worst part is: people laughed. The audience, the viewers, producers and Rock himself reveled in their own conscious approach to black exclusion from the arts, and yet targeted a minority that is often perceived as being ‘submissive’ and ‘obedient.’ In a bit that lasted a mere 45 seconds, audiences across America were implicitly told by Rock and the laughter that followed that racism in the arts wasn’t to be tolerated — except when people want to laugh about Asians.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement, “It is not right to protest the exclusion of one group by making jokes at the expense of another. I am so disappointed that the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and ABC would rely on such offensive characterizations, especially given the controversy over the lack of diversity.
“While much attention was paid to the way African Americans have been ignored by Hollywood, true diversity must include other minorities as well. It is outrageous that the only role that Asian Americans had at last night’s Oscars was to appear as the butt of a joke.
“Young children stood up on stage as the audience was made to laugh at Asian and Jewish names. Reinforcing stereotypes of Asians as good at math or child laborers runs counter to multicultural understanding and inclusion. It’s time for Hollywood to see Asians as more than just punchlines.”
Constance Wu, star of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” tweeted, “To parade little kids on stage w/ no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive & gross.”
Former Lakers guard Jeremy Lin, now with the Charlotte Hornets, tweeted, “Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians. smh (Shaking my head)”
Presenter Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) was also taken to task for remarks he made as his comic character Ali G. Touching on the diversity issue, he said, “How come there’s no Oscar for them very hard-working little yellow people with tiny dongs?” and then revealed he was talking about the Minions.
On Slate’s cultural blog, Lowen Liu wrote, “Both Cohen’s and Rock’s bits rely on a mix of genuine delight and discomfort with their opening gambits. Even if the second beat tries to turn things around, it still allows the teller to make an Asian joke and then excuse himself from the telling. He pulls the rug out from under the audience only to hide underneath it …
“These two bits also served as another reminder of how, too often, Asian jokes are the last frontier in cheap racial humor … The gestures toward self-awareness that now so often accompany yellow-tinted gags don’t make them any better; they are just reminders of how far we still have to go.”
On Upworthy.com, Eric March wrote, “The silver lining to Rock and Baron Cohen’s stumbles? An often invisible prejudice is now getting some much-needed attention.
“Progress is already being made on TV, by shows like ‘Master of None,’ ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ and ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ which feature nuanced, complex Asian and Asian American characters in leading roles.
“But as more and more people speak out, the more likely it becomes that the film industry will start to get the message too.”