Asian Americans react to Ill-Conceived Oscars Joke
It goes without saying that the 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was the most political yet. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy gave this year’s host Chris Rock plenty of opportunity to highlight the need to diversify the film industry by offering more opportunities for Black actors and actresses. Other industry honorees were also able to use the program as a platform to speak on their own agenda – Leonardo DiCaprio on climate change, Lady Gaga on sexual assault and even director Alejandro González Iñárritu gets in on the race issue with some poignant commentary. With the highly political atmosphere of this awards season and the idea of DIVERSITY being shoved in our faces for the entire show, I find it incredible that Chris Rock and guest Sacha Baron Cohen still manage to squeeze in their racist jokes about Asians.
Around halfway through the ceremony, Rock introduces three Asian children wearing suits and ties as the accountants from PriceWaterhouseCooper who are in charge of counting the votes. Without a beat, we all know he is making fun of Asians for being math geeks and playing on the harmful model minority myth. He also makes jokes about child labor, telling people that are offended to tweet about it with phones made by the same kids.
Sacha Baron Cohen also bashes the Asian community while presenting a Best Film nominee. Alongside Olivia Wilde (who was shaking with laughter the whole time, btw), Cohen in character as Ali G from his latest film made a joke about yellow people with small penises. “Minions!” he yells at a laughing audience, who all know he is making fun of Asian people and are laughing anyways.
Tell me which is worse: that Chris Rock planned on exploiting children in the joke without their parents knowing or that Cohen’s unplanned, unapproved remarks were so well-received. Either situation seems to speak volumes about how unseriously the Academy and its members regard diversity issues.
“We do not belong here. We are comic props. We are a punchline,” said Phil Yu in his take-no-prisoners response to the Oscars on Angry Asian Man.
With a similar sentiment, some took to Twitter to call out the Oscars and Chris Rock for preaching diversity while still playing on Asian stereotypes.
— Harry Shum Jr (@HarryShumJr) February 29, 2016
How unnecessary to make fun of Asians on the #Oscars when Hollywood isn't even evolved enough to give Asians Asian-specific roles yet.
— Jen Chae (@frmheadtotoe) February 29, 2016
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) February 29, 2016
Some Asian-American figures were tired of being thrown under the bus.
Waiting for the day Asians won't just be the butt of a joke. #Oscars
— Arden Cho (@arden_cho) February 29, 2016
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) February 29, 2016
“Fresh Off The Boat Actress” Constance Wu also addressed the use of kids in the skit, calling the skit “the antithesis of progress.”
To parade little kids on stage w/no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive & gross. Antithesis of progress.
— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) February 29, 2016
With all this conversation happening, the issue is far from being put to rest. Rock may have handled some diversity issues with some good comedy, but let’s be clear: It’s not okay to talk about how Wanda Sykes is always typecast as the “Black Friend” and then to turn around and typecast Asian children in a joke about accounting and child labor or to be okay with equating Asians with Minions. Don’t be a hypocrite.
Cover image via MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images