Academy Issues Weak Sauce Apology for Anti-Asian Jokes

March 15, 2016
Chris Rock introduces three young Asian/Asian American children at Oscars 2016. (Photo credit: Rex)
Chris Rock introduces three young Asian/Asian American children at Oscars 2016. (Photo credit: Rex)

I’m going to create a new Tumblr: Weak Sauce Apologies For Racism.

Initial entries would include Emma Stone’s “my eyes have been opened” apology for appearing as an Asian American woman in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha; James Bond writer Anthony Horowitz’s 140-character mea culpa for calling Idris Elba “too street” to play his titular character; and Mark Wahlberg’s request to be pardoned for an anti-Asian hate crime assault.

We can also add another one to the list. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a weak sauce, two sentence apology today, nearly three weeks after it aired a skit during the Oscars that invoked anti-Asian “model minority” and “child labour” stereotypes while exploiting three Asian American children as racial props.

The tone-deaf anti-Asian joke involving host Chris Rock — as well as another innuendo by Oscars presenter Sascha Baron Cohen in his fictional persona Ali G — outraged Asian American viewers. They also initiated an outpouring of angry think-pieces penned by Asian American writers, including one by myself as well as by guest contributor Larissa Lam. Asian American actors tweeted their displeasure, and netizens created the #OnlyOnePercent hashtag to juxtapose the jokes against studies showing that Asian American actors receive less than 1% of speaking roles in major films.

And today, 25 Asian and Asian American members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came together in a letter to decry the Oscars’ anti-Asian jokes. The 25 industry professionals included actors, producers, documentarians and directors such as Ang Lee, Sandra Oh, and George Takei and Arthur Dong, and featured six Academy Award winners, four nominees, three former members of the Academy Board of Governors, and a recipient of the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation for outstanding achievements in sound.

Here is the full letter:

March 9, 2016

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President
Dawn Hudson, CEO
Members of the Board of Governors
Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, Oscars® Producers
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

RE:    “Oscars:  Why Make Cheap Jokes at the Expense of Asians?”
(Hollywoodreporter.com)
“The Oscars anti-Asian racism was alive and well.”
(PsychologyToday.com)
            “Asian-American Jab at Oscars reveals deeper diversity woes”
(Associated Press, Salon.com)

Dear Cheryl, Dawn, Members of the Board of Governors, Reginald and David:

We are writing as Academy members of Asian descent to express our complete surprise and disappointment with the targeting of Asians at the 88th Oscars telecast and its perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity.  Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.

We’d like to know how such tasteless and offensive skits could have happened and what process you have in place to preclude such unconscious or outright bias and racism toward any group in future Oscars telecasts.

We look forward to hearing from you about this matter and about the concrete steps to ensure that all people are portrayed with dignity and respect.

We are proud that the Oscars reach several hundred million people around the world of whom 60% are Asians and potential moviegoers.

Sincerely,

Don Hall, Sound Branch, John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, Academy Governor, 18 years
Freida Lee Mock, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner, Academy Governor, 6 years
Arthur Dong, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee, Academy Governor, 4 years
Ang Lee, Directors Branch, Two-time Academy Award winner
Chris Tashima, Shorts and Feature Animation Branch, Academy Award winner
Christine Choy, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee
David Magdael, Public Relations Branch
France Nuyen, Actors Branch
George Takei, Actors Branch
Janet Yang, Producers Branch
Jessica Yu, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner
Jodi Long, Actors Branch
Laura Kim, Public Relations Branch
Marcus Hu, Executives Branch
Maysie Hoy, Film Editors Branch
Nancy Kwan, Actors Branch
Peter Kwong, Actors Branch
Renee Tajima-Pena, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee
Rithy Panh, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee
Ruby Yang, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner
Sandra Oh, Actors Branch
Steven Okazaki, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner
Teddy Zee, Executives Branch
William Hoy, Film Editors Branch
Yung Chang, Documentary Branch

The Hollywood Reporter notes that only about 50 of the Academy’s approximately 6,500 membership are Asian. Thus, the letter represents the opinions of more than half of the Academy’s Asian and Asian American members.

The Academy responded to the letter later today, telling The Hollywood Reporter:

The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.

Hours after the Academy offered that horribly trite mea culpa, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson offered a follow-up statement, calling our community’s concerns “valid” and promising to make future Oscars ceremonies more “culturally sensitive”.

Dear Friends and other concerned Academy members,

Thank you for taking the time to voice your concerns about our 88th Oscar show, which are valid. We appreciate your perspective and take your points very seriously. It certainly was never the Academy’s intent to offend anyone.

We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future Oscar telecasts be more culturally sensitive.

It pains us that any aspect of the show was considered offensive, and I apologize for any hurt the skits caused.

Our Awards Committee and Academy leadership will be exercising more oversight to make sure that concerns like yours are fully addressed.

With warm regards,

Dawn Hudson

That is, pardon my French, some bullshit. We’re sorry people were offended by the shitty racism that we beamed into the homes of millions of people on Oscars Night? Here’s a thought: How about you don’t give me some crappy apology three weeks after the fact? How about instead you just don’t act in complicity with racism?

(By the way, it’s worth noting that Chris Rock — who certainly had a hand in writing the skit even if it received subsequent approval from Oscars telecast producers — has so far remained mum on the controversy.)

A few years ago, I questioned the cultural relevancy of the Oscars after Fruitvale Station and a number of other prominent films featuring filmmakers of colour were snubbed amidst growing reports highlighting the lack of diversity in Hollywood film-making and the Academy membership. Two years later, I find myself still asking that same question.

  • olin

    Did you actually read the “full statement” attached to Anthony Horowitz’s tweet? For convenience I’ll include it here:

    I’m really sorry my comments about Idris Elba have caused offence. That wasn’t my intention.

    I was asked in my interview if Idris Elba would make a good James Bond.
    In the article I expressed the opinion that to my mind Adrian Lester
    would be a better choice, but I’m a writer not a casting director so
    what do I know?

    Clumsily, I chose the word ‘street’ as Elba’s
    gritty portrayal of DCI John Luther was in my mind but I admit it was a
    poor choice of word. I am mortified to have caused offence.

    I’m guessing that the people who interpreted ‘street’ as a reference to Elba’s race either weren’t aware of the context or don’t know who Adrian Lester is and assumed that he is white (he is a black British actor, just like Elba).

    I don’t really think the accusation of racism was justified in this case.

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