What’s worse than an event that pissed you off? The majority of the press thinking it was great.
The fact that most reporters praised Chris Rock’s opening Oscars monologue showed that they too believed diversity meant black people and black people alone. Because that was the only group he talked about in his 10 minutes. You think African Americans have it bad by not being nominated in any of the 20 acting slots? At least they have significant roles in movies in near proportion to their population. They’re overrepresented on television; Latinos and Asian Americans? Hah! Not even close.
And that’s because when you say “minorities” or “diversity,” the industry automatically thinks of black people. The rest of us have to constantly remind Hollywood that it includes the rest of us too.
If that wasn’t enough, when Rock interviewed people in Compton — except for a white guy who was there as a joke — they were all black (asking them about Oscar-nominated films fell flat because even white audiences never heard of most of them). In reality, Latinos outnumber blacks there by two to one!
In a montage where the producers inserted black actors into Oscar-nominated movies, there was not one Asian or Latino (and adding insult to injury, Rock had the nerve to make a stink over “The Martian,” taking Matt Damon’s place; hell, a black actor already took the place of an Asian character, Venkat Kapoor! Oh, but that doesn’t fit the black/white model, does it?).
Then Rock wasted more time pimping his daughter trying to get celebrities to buy Girl Scout cookies. And later when she appeared on stage with other Girl Scouts, they were all black too.
Black enough for you yet?
Last year, Rock wrote an essay in The Hollywood Reporter asserting that producers have to go out of their way to not hire Latinos, as they’re so inescapable in Los Angeles. I thought he got it. That he wasn’t one of those African Americans who only whined about the lot of their community but saw the bigger picture as it affected the rest of us. I gave him too much credit.
I’d long looked forward to seeing his performances because he wasn’t afraid to “tell it like it is” in a biting and angry but funny style. Not anymore. Get to the back of the line.
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, also black, wasted her time on stage talking in vague terms about making the Academy reflect the population. Note how she didn’t mention her plan to double the number of women and minorities by 2020 and taking away voting rights from members who haven’t been in the industry for 10 years. That would’ve gotten her some boos.
Sacha Baron Cohen, adopting his Ali G character, prides himself on making provocative statements. So he made everyone think he was talking about Asian men when he referred to “little yellow people with tiny dongs.” You wanna be really brave? Make a joke insulting black people. No thanks? Didn’t think so. Chicken.
The Academy supposedly didn’t know what Rock was going to say and the producers told Cohen to stick to his cue cards and “play it straight,” but he says he and his wife hid in a bathroom to put on his Ali G look so he could do that joke. But the Academy did know about the other pre-taped segments and the horrible way Rock was going to use three cute and innocent Asian American children as fodder for jokes about Asians being good at math and as child laborers.
Once again, our community served as a buffer between whites and blacks, in this case, so they could laugh at a minority group they all agreed they could get away with mocking.
Academy, we will not forget. You will pay for this.
Rock did make a very strong point about the mindset of the 91 percent of the Academy who’re white. Recalling a Hollywood event to meet President Obama, Rock was one of only four African Americans in a sea of white people. These are nice liberals who voted for and supported Obama. Yet they’re the same ones who don’t hire enough minorities for their projects! Noticeably, the overwhelmingly white audience did not laugh very much. Too close to the truth?
The press further hurts the cause by perpetuating this notion that this is a black issue about blacks being excluded from prestigious films. Putting African Americans in projects taking place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Hawaii, over Asian Americans —who outnumber them there — would do a disservice to the spirit of diversity — to reflect reality. Please, Hollywood, get real.
Bachi ga Ataru Department: Despite pundits predicting people would tune in if only to see what Rock was going to say about this #OscarsSoWhite controversy, this was the lowest-rated telecast in eight years, the third-worst in history. And it must’ve been a long night for director Ridley Scott, who sat in his chair watching his film “The Martian” lose in all seven of its nominated categories.
Channel Surfing Department: The latest installment of “Survivor” is broken into three tribes — Beauty, Brains, and Brawn. For some reason no one can explain, one of the Beauty members is a skinny, gay, Vietnamese guy named Tai who speaks with an accent so strong he often needs (and gets) subtitles. He’s endeared himself to many in his tribe for being sensitive to life and killing. After he holds down a chicken so another can kill it for a meal, he cries, feeling awful for taking a life.
In fact, when one of the guys smirks at his sensitivity, the women want to vote him out, saying they trust Tai. A former “Big Brother” contestant even admits he has a bromance with the guy.
In “Dr. Ken,” Dr. Park’s teenager daughter gets a boyfriend and he looks hapa. Star/producer Ken Jeong also used his old “Community” co-star Danny Pudi (half Pakistani) as the love interest for his co-worker Dr. Julie and Wil Yun Lee as his wife’s former boyfriend. I appreciate Jeong’s efforts to present Asian American men as love interests.
Rachel Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna never cease to amaze me with the journey they take fans of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on. Last week, Rebecca (Bloom) filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for not giving hot water to people in West Covina. When she loses and admits to her love interest Josh (Filipino American) that she was afraid of disappointing him, he’s flattered that he means that much to her. For the first time, they kiss. And kiss. And kiss!
Of course, that leads to Josh feeling guilty. Although he tells his girlfriend Valentina, she forgives him and, counter to what Rebecca hoped, they don’t break up.
Over-Achieving Us Department: ABC has renewed “Fresh Off the Boat” for a third season (!), “Quantico“ for its second, and AMC has ordered 10 new episodes of “Into the Badlands” starring Daniel Wu for 2017.
Time Doesn’t Heal Department: On Feb. 29, I walked out of the Burbank Airport terminal toward baggage claim. It’d been only the second time I’d taken a flight out of there since 2006, and I knew the 10th anniversary of the death of reporter Sam Chu Lin was near. I imagined him walking through the same exit toward the curb, where he collapsed on March 5, 2006 and never recovered.
I’ve never gotten over Sam’s sudden death, and I will never stop missing him.
He was there on the set of “Politically Incorrect” covering my debate with Sarah Silverman, interviewing as many of the parties as possible. He told George Takei and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta about my upcoming appearance, wanting to get their reactions for his story.
He was the guy who bugged station managers and news directors (KNBC, KTLA, KCAL, KTTV, KFWB-AM, etc.) about covering Asian American stories. As KNBC news director Bob Long said at his memorial, when you told him no, Sam would come back over and over again. He wouldn’t give up. He was a pest. And our community benefited.
Who would do that now, I asked in this column 10 years ago. No one, I predicted. Sadly, I was right.
At the 2006 MANAA awards dinner honoring him posthumously, KTTV anchor Susan Hirasuna, reading the words I’d written, said we often took Sam for granted. In 2000 when MANAA honored “Nightline” (the producer and reporter John Donvan) for their amazing story on Asian American media stereotypes and the unfair persecution of innocent Asian Americans like Dr. Wen Ho Lee, we didn’t include Sam. Even though he kept on them to do the story and tried to find Asian Americans willing to go on camera to talk about their experiences. We felt he was just doing his job.
But, as Hirasuna corrected, choking up and breaking into tears, he always went beyond the call of duty.
I miss knowing he had once again flown in from Sunnyvale to Burbank to take care of his parents when he’d call asking, “What’s cookin’?” This is the guy who announced the fall of Saigon in 1975 from the CBS anchor desk when Walter Cronkite couldn’t get there in time. This was the reporter who told the story of the Superman creators selling their superhero to DC Comics for $125, not participating in any of the royalties that came from comic books, movies, and merchandising, and living in poverty (the company wound up giving them credit and more money).
This was the admitted advocate who came to MANAA meetings, advised what we should do in combating the media, and telling me he should be the president but couldn’t because of the conflict of interest. And this is me forever mourning his loss because I thought he’d always be here and didn’t thank him enough for all that he did.
I love you, Sam. And I will always remember.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.