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Chris Rock’s Asian joke at Oscars provokes backlash

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Host Chris Rock, right, and children participate in a skit at the Oscars on Sunday, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Amid generally positive reviews of his jabs at Hollywood and #OscarsSoWhite, the host of Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, Chris Rock, is being taken to task for some of his material involving Asian-Americans.

Introducing the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulates the vote results, Rock instead brought onstage two boys and a girl of Asian heritage, whom he named Ming Zu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz. As they clutched briefcases, they visually illustrated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at math.

“If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” Rock added, a punch line interpreted as a reference to child labor in Asia.

But that seeming awareness of how fine the line was between satire and slur only added insult to injury, Lowen Liu wrote on the Slate site. “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.” (Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as Ali G, later also made a swipe — involving Minions and “little yellow people” — that many found offensive.)

Constance Wu, the “Fresh Off the Boat” actress, tweeted her disappointment: “To parade little kids on stage w/no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive & gross,” she wrote.

So did the actor Jeffrey Wright, who tweeted that the “joke needed recalibrating,” among other more stringent comments.

In a new study, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that at least half of the movies, television and streaming series released over the last two years had no speaking or named Asian-American characters; when they are represented, it is rarely in leading roles.

Even well-known Asian-American actors like Ken Jeong are still asked to do stereotypical accents, as he and others detailed in a recent New York Times story. “It’s getting a little bit better, but it’s just not great,” Jeong said of onscreen representation. “We have a ways to go.”

Asian and Asian-American performers, like the South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun and the TV star Mindy Kaling, were on hand as Oscar presenters Sunday. And the academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, called on her colleagues to “take action” because “our audiences are global and rich in diversity, and every facet of our industry should be as well. “

But many critics said Rock’s jokes seemed like a missed opportunity to highlight the fact that inclusion goes beyond black and white. (There were no jokes aimed at Latinos, but there was also no indication by the awards show that they were proportionately missing from the big screen, though the statistics say they are.)

As the writer Mina Kimes noted on Twitter, the joke ” would’ve stung less if there were more Asians on stage tonight.”

In response to the ceremony, the writer Jaya Sundaresh created her own social media movement, urging followers to use the hashtag onlyonepercent “to reflect the fact that Asian Americans have rec’d only 1% of Oscar noms in its history.”

An antidote to the one-liners came from the Pakistani journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who picked up her second Oscar for documentary short, this time for “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” a film about an 18-year-old girl who survived an attempted “honor killing,” only to see her attackers set free.

“The Pakistani prime minister said he would change the law on honor killings after watching” her film, Obaid Chinoy said in her acceptance speech. “That’s the power of film.”

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  • Political correctness gone amok….these libs need to get over it. If Chris Rock was a white male joking about AA, Latinos or Asians, they would have called on ACLU and the likes to get him banned from any more TV appearances.

      • Yeah, don’t even bring up Delima. When my Caucasian son was a little boy singing with the Honolulu Boy Choir, Frank made him the butt of about four “haole” jokes in a row. My son didn’t understand but ended up crying. My wife had to stop me from taking Frank outside and counseling him. He’s often a mean spirited jerk and thank heavens he never completed his seminary training for the priesthood.

        BTW: Is “amok” a slur aimed at Indonesian Malays?

        Perhaps at this time, it’s not a bad idea just to lay off “jokes” that depend upon ethnic stereotypes.

    • The ACLU only gets involved where the government is taking some kind of action. I don’t know who is worse in this situation: Crybaby liberals or ignorant conservatives. I guess you’re both pretty much the same.

    • So at the end of the day, with all the brouhaha about the Oscars being racist, the person that was tasked with enlightening us all about the issue, only succeeded in offending another ethnic group. Good night; you just can’t please everyone.

  • It seems to be open season on Asian Americans in Hollywood. Actually, the comedians were trying to make light of the lack of minority representation at the Oscars, and to that extent it worked well. I just hope the kids didn’t feel that they were being mocked and laughed at, you can see adults understanding satire, but kids may not.

  • Whether you did or didn’t love the old “Hawaii 5-0”, it was a ground-breaker in terms of inclusive media. As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I watched that show and saw strong, talented actors like Kam Fong, Zulu, and Herman Wedemeyer playing real, top-notch police characters – not playing “the Asian” or “the Native”. Why Hollywood has failed to learn how valuable that was – or totally forgotten it – mystifies me. But it also mystifies me why anyone would put a loudmouth like Rock on the Oscars stage to show off and insult people all night…that’s Hollywood, I guess.

    • Makes him more popular. He is good at taking firebrand subjects and injecting humor into them. Did you ever see his “N—-r” skit? Surprised it was televised on mainstream TV. He really was funny. He took the racial equality hot potato and created a performance that did ask for some serious consideration and then started to make light of this as “No beeg Ting.” There were blacks in the audience. There were blacks honored. Jokes were made on top of every race on the screen and in the audience every minute. We all laughed. Genius. The Academy brilliantly defused the issues and created what was probably the best Oscars to date. I congratulate them and Chris Rock.

  • Tells me liberals (black, white, brown, green, red) are two faced. You can make jokes about any minority except black.
    Hollywood is a joke, along with the Oscars.

    • exactly. they need to get over it. they make millions making movies, both white and black and some asians, latinos etc, and boo hoo, you didnt get nominated. I thought his monolog was a farce thru the entire show. He could have talked about it initially, maybe a few times, but he harped on it all night long and I didnt think it was funny at all. Hey maybe we should protest that Dwayne Johnson hasnt been nominated, not too many Polynesians up there! How about this..the best actor wins. Period. The best players in the NBA get to play and they are 99% black. And I dont see whites protesting the games, considering if you look at the crowd, its mostly white. People need to get over this.

  • Stereotyping Asian kids as good at math didn’t seem offensive to me; I thought they were cute. But, when I heard Sacha Baron Cohen’s remark about “little yellow people with tiny dongs”, I had to shake my head. That did sound pretty crude, even for him.

  • Okay, so we poke fun at all races. Whatever. We’re all adults and we can be too overly sensitive about political correctness. But don’t parade kids around and use them as the butt of such attempts at humor. Next we’ll be using elderly Alzheimers patients as props.

  • We make fun of all races here. It’s part of our culture. But here is different from the rest of the USA. Here what would be minorities on the mainland are in leading positions. We even fielded a black President. The insidious discrimination of the mainland isn’t as powerful to us. Back in the old plantation days, maybe things were different for us. But now I got to say, I’m proud to be mixed ethnicity and still good with numbers.

  • Are you able to do the following?

    1) Eat, drink, and let out the waste.

    2) Smell, see, hear and talk.

    3) Walk, run, skip, jump and hop.

    4) Do the many things with two arms and 2 hands, 2 legs and 2 feet.

    5) Having internal organs working to their optimal performance.

    If you are fortunate and have the ability to do the many things healthy humans are able to do great. Count your blessings.

    If you are fortunate due to having power, money and the ability to influence the masses, start doing good and start griping.
    Help the less fortunate with your resources, lead a movement for the betterment of all people around the world, start helping in changing our political landscape of the many self serving politicians in American and yes no matter what color human you so happen to be does not give you the right to demean another person or race.

  • I just don’t get it, remember last year when there were seven black actors that were nominated last year for Academy Awards, did you notice how Mr. Rock started to praise those colored actors who were nominated, what about Asian actors did you remember a while back when Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie came out and I believe some of those actors were nominated, The Last Emperor, Memories of a Geisha, not to long ago Akira Kurosawa was given a special Academy Award for his movies, but Mr. Rock never acknowledged these past actors who were nominated or won Awards

  • They ought to keep quiet about race because any two healthy human beings (male and female, of course) can mate and produce children.

  • Typical Black hypocrisy. They want it both ways. They accuse others of racism but, somehow, they’re assumed to NOT be capable of racism. But don’t ever accuse them of that or the PC police will be coming for your head and your livelihood to destroy you for having an opinion contrary to their PC agenda.

  • No one ever complains when it’s a white or redneck joke. Why all the hoo hoo about any other ethnic group. There’s no satisfying the politically correct folks, they always find something to gripe about.

  • Once again arrogant hypocrites like Chris Rock show that they are the very racists whom they claim to deplore. Yet they feel justified and entitled to spit on other minorities. Jamie foxx and Denzel Washington tweeted “act better” regarding the lack of black nominations. They both won Oscars.

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