At Sunday’s 88th Academy Awards, host Chris Rock used three young kids dressed as Oscars accountants to make a distasteful joke about Asian and Jewish stereotypes, as well as child labour. Now one of the kid's moms is speaking out.
Halfway through the ceremony, three kids were brought on to the stage. “The result of tonight's Academy Awards have been tabulated by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers,” Rock said. “They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives.”
The three kids were all given stereotypical Asian and Jewish names. And Rock ended his gag saying, “If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids, OK?”
Here, Rock is referring to child labour used in China, Philippines and other developing Asian countries.
While the unnecessary joke came as a surprise to viewers, they weren’t the only ones caught off guard.
Eight-year-old Estie Kung, one of the kids who was brought on stage, and her mom Laura had no idea what the joke was going to be until after they had signed the contract and were at rehearsals. Until then, they only knew Estie was chosen to play an Oscars accountant.
“I did wonder, ‘Why all Asians?’” Estie's mom told Public Radio International. “But I assumed there was a bigger picture, a more complex joke given all the emphasis placed on diversity at the Oscars this year.”
Kung is referring to the #OscarsSoWhite movement that was prompted by the lack of diversity at this year’s Academy Awards. This is the second year in a row that the Academy did not include any non-white nominations.
While host Rock was applauded for his opening monologue which addressed this controversial issue, his sole focus was on the fact that there were no black nominees. As a result, he failed to address that all other non-white races – Asian, Latino, Native America and biracial – were also unacknowledged.
This, plus the sting of Rock’s Asian joke, was a sore disappointment. Kung herself was furious about the gag but decided to keep her daughter in the skit because of the contract and because of Estie’s excitement of being part of the Oscars.
While Kung believes the joke “should never have happened,” she is trying to stay positive. “The angrier people are and more people talk about it, the better it will be moving forward,” she said. “Estie hopes to keep acting and we all hope for a time when she can be on that stage to honour her achievement.”
Kung is certainly right. Since the Oscars on Sunday, a number of people have spoken out about Rock’s unnecessary joke and have hit back at him on Twitter.
Chris Rock spent the entire night talking about the importance of diversity.Brings out CHILDREN to make a racist Asian joke. #doublestandard— Olivia Ketron (@oketron16) February 29, 2016
So that’s TWO jokes at the expense of Asian actors. Don’t throw one minority down to raise up another, writers. #Oscars— Donna Dickens (@MildlyAmused) 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
Asian actors are always pushed aside & rarely get any major awards or press. I found Chris Rock's jokes to be disrespectful at the #Oscars— Fernando Torres (@NextTopMD) February 29, 2016
Even celebrities got in on the action. In particular, Rock’s joke struck a chord with basketball star Jeremy Lin, who slammed the comedian on Twitter saying: “Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians.”
During a night so focused on bringing the issue of diversity to light, Rock’s Asian joke was a step backwards. As “Fresh Off The Boat” actress Constance Wu put it:
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
Despite the backlash, Hollywood still has a long way to go to become more inclusive. Sociology professor Jennifer Lee, from University of California, Irvine, told The Huffington Post that while the joke was clearly problematic, it was not flagged during the show’s rounds of approval before broadcast, revealing the industry's ignorance.
“The writers who created the skit revealed just how much the industry needs to diversify, and diversify beyond the Black-White framework,” Lee said. “While Chris Rock was vocal about criticizing the absence of African Americans, he and other writers were ill adept at expanding the criticism to other non-White groups, including Asians and Latinos.”
Also on HuffPost