UPDATE with Academy statement: Twenty-four people in the entertainment industry, the majority of whom are of Asian decent, have gone to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to air their grievances about jokes made during the Oscar telecast at the expense of Asians and how they perpetuated stereotypes. For instance, Oscar host Chris Rock used Asian children as props for a sweatshop and math joke, while presenter Sacha Baron Cohen joked about “those yellow men with tiny dongs – you know, Minions.”
The Academy eventually issued a statement to outlets after news of the letter was made public. “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.”
This year’s Oscar nominations was mired in controversy over the lack of diversity among the nominees. While African American voices took center stage, there was little coverage of the fact that diversity also includes other communities such as Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners and Native Americans. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on social media and some people even boycotted the show.
This letter, signed by Oscar-winning filmmakers and previous nominees such as Ang Lee, Jessica Yu, Freida Lee Mock, Ruby Yang, Chris Tashima, Steven Okazaki, as well as other members of the Academy including Teddy Zee, Janet Yang and George Takei, asks the Academy 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.”
“I was there at the Academy Awards, and I was shocked because (Academy President) Cheryl Boone-Isaacs went up and talked about diversity and then right after that comes the jokes from Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen,” said letter signee Peter Kwong, who served as a Board of Governors rep for the TV Academy’s performers peer group for four years and served 10 years on the national board for the Screen Actors Guild. “Some people have the attitude why can’t you have a sense of humor and in humor there are no boundaries, and it’s because it gives people permission to not only continue it but to escalate it as well.” They have yet to hear a response on this from the Academy who had their board meeting today.
The signees said the show was “marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.” So was the audience as most of those in attendance laughed and laughed, unaware of the hurt it was causing.
Here’s the 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?”
“The Oscars anti-Asian racism was alive and well.”
“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.
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@AMPAS
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