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.

Some Asian-American figures were tired of being thrown under the bus.

“Fresh Off The Boat Actress” Constance Wu also addressed the use of kids in the skit, calling the skit “the antithesis of progress.”

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


The Many Manifestations of #OscarsSoWhite

Recently, the New York Times released a feature titled “The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees” and revealed a startling trend.  The feature compiled a list of “503 of the most powerful people in American culture, government, education and business, and found that just 44 are minorities,” which is approximately 8% of all the people surveyed.  The categories stemmed from CEOs of powerful American companies, to leaders in government, education, and entertainment.  Organized into a neat, visual list, the message was far from subtle.

Ever heard of the Glass Ceiling? In light of the new wave of social justice movements sweeping the country (particularly the Black Lives Matter movement), more and more Americans are becoming aware of just how difficult it is for minorities to grab a foothold in American society.  According to the 2014 US Census, almost 6% of the Americans are Asian/Pacific Islander and about 23% of Americans are either a racial minority or of mixed race.  Over the last decade, there has been some “progress” in representation: Satyha Nadella was appointed CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Kevin Tsujihara was named CEO of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in 2013, and in 2008 Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States.  Shonda Rhimes, one of two minority heads (both of whom are black) in “People Who Decide Which Television Shows Americans See,” is responsible for hit shows such as Greys Anatomy and Scandal—both of which have cast minority actors such as Sandra Oh and Kerry Washington.  But think about it this way—there are over 318 million people in the United States today (from the 2014 census data).  That means there are 73 million Americans that are racial minorities and 19 million of those that are Asian/Pacific Islander.   How is it possible that with 73 million people who are considered racial minorities, only 44 of them hold positions of power?  And among those 44, only 10 of those are of Asian/Pacific Islander decent.  Don’t even get me started on minority women.

So what does this mean for Asian-Americans?  Despite accounting for 15-20 percent of the student population at Ivy League schools, there are currently no AAPI Presidents of Ivy League Universities (Jim Yong Kim left his position at Dartmouth in 2012), and AAPI’s lead only a fraction of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies.  Even with groundbreaking shows like Fresh Off the BoatDr. Ken, and Master of None along with other AAPI stars in actual leading roles, AAPI actors represent less than 4% of all film and television roles. In athletics, less than 5% of AAPI athletes play in the largest sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB, and NBA.  On top of this, AAPIs hold only 11 seats in Congress: 10 being in the House and 1 in the Senate.  What about the other 19 million of us that are living in the US today? The message the New York Times highlights in their feature is not only a stunning lack of representation, but is also a nod to the larger conversation of systemic racism in America.  Racism extends far beyond hate crimes or rude slurs.  Racism is also the model minority myth, the refusal to understand our culture, and the bias that exists because of the color of our skin and the shape of our eyes. Sadly, where there is systemic racism, there will be a glass ceiling regardless of conscious intention.  So what’s the solution?

It really doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take much effort to see that minorities are whole and varied people, just like everyone else. While many of us study to be doctors and lawyers, an equal amount of us strive to become artists, writers, and actors.  Some of us like science, and some of us like humanities. Some of us strive to become leaders, while some of us don’t aspire to be, but most importantly, many of us are starting to realize that the game is rigged, and figuring out how to play on our own outside of the established status quo, looking for places (or creating them from scratch) where we will be valued for what we bring to the table. In fact, studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership perform better in general. Perhaps for those in power, it is time to stop asking minorities to merely “work harder” and “play along” for that non-existent carrot, and instead take a hard look at the systemic barriers that may be keeping their minority peers from unlocking their full potential. In the end, we’ll all be better for it.

See the full New York Times interactive article here


Image via New York Times

Last Week Tonight Asks How Is Hollywood Whitewashing Still a Thing?

Want to know what’s so important about #OscarsSoWhite? Check out this skit by the peeps at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. “Whitewashing” gives us a cheeky overview of the systematic problem in Hollywood that once again contributed to a lack of actors and actresses of color in the Academy Award nominations.

Whitewashing is a term that can refer to an individual who (intentionally or unintentionally) casts off their cultural practices/background in order to fit into the cultural norms – however, it is used in this video to refer to the act of casting Caucasian actors and actresses as characters that are ethnically non-white. Among the famous examples mentioned in this video, there are a ton of Asian characters including Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan in “Dragon Seed” (2004), Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) and Emma Stone as Allison Ng in Aloha (2015). They even mention Tom Cruise’s role as Capt. Nathan Algren in “The Last Samurai” (2003) as quite ridiculous, and I have to agree (even though Tom Cruise is great).

The video doesn’t blame the Academy for #OscarsSoWhite, but traces the act of whitewashing roles in Hollywood back to historic roots. It provides an interesting commentary on how the problem is still pervasive today, even in how people react to casting non-white actors and actresses as traditionally white characters (Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in “Fantastic Four” and John Boyega as Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).

While whitewashing isn’t as harmful as some of the most stereotypical portrayals from the 40s-60s, it is still an act of oppression. It drowns out the representation of people of color in mainstream media and, ultimately, leads to a lack of representation at The Oscars.

Check out the video below (contains some NSFW language)


Cover Image via Last Week Tonight/HBO