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Chris Rock’s Asian-American Oscars Joke Blasted By Viewers

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The 88th annual Academy Awards nominations were controversial for their marked lack of diversity, with an all-white group of actors nominated once again. As anticipated, the ongoing #OscarsSoWhite conversation was addressed often throughout the February 29 ceremony, in part by Chris Rock’s opening monologue (watch it here), a speech from Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and skits featuring Tracy Morgan, Angela Bassett and Jack Black.  But for all of Rock’s jokes — which almost exclusively focused on the binary of opportunities for white actors versus those for black actors — he and the show’s writers still felt that a gag resting on Asian stereotypes would be a hilarious and appropriate idea. Not all viewers agreed.

Toward the end of a three-and-a-half hour ceremony bloated with skits, Rock said it was time to introduce the Academy’s accountants. He then beckoned three be-suited kids carrying briefcases onto the stage, saying they were from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard working representatives,” he said. “Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.” Despite the “Jewish people are good with money!” stereotype-joke thrown in, all three children appeared Asian.

The timing of the joke was even more unfortunate given a well-publicized study on diversity in Hollywood released earlier this month. USC’s Annenberg school of journalism reviewed over 21,000 characters and crew members on more than 400 films and TV shows released from September 2014 through August 2015.  They found that half the movies they studied featured no Asian or Asian-American characters at all, and the characters who did appear garnered only 5% of film and TV speaking parts.

These statistics likely came as no surprise to Asian American filmgoers who’ve longed to see themselves represented in pop culture — it’s a topic addressed throughout Aziz Anzari’s excellent Master of None Netflix series, based on his life growing up Indian American. Ignorance, of course, presents itself offscreen as well: Pakistani-American Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani, who co-hosted the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards with SNL‘s Kate McKinnon, tweeted on Sunday that a photographer had made xenophobic remarks to him at the very same event he was paid to emcee.

Nanjiani said the photographer went on to repeat “welcome to America” five times, and writes, “And I know when someone is racist, the fault is theirs and not yours. But, in the moment, it makes you feel flattened, reduced & bullied.”

Meanwhile, the 2016 Oscars chose to represent Asian Americans with a joke about staying behind the scenes and being good at math. And no, the kids onstage weren’t given speaking parts either.

The Academy has announced that they’re taking active steps to reform the homogenous voting body; Oscar voters were nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male with an average age of 63 at the time of a 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation. And while the ceremony constantly addressed it with a mixed bag of approaches that ranged from funny and astute to pandering to cringeworthy (that means you, Stacey Dash), the Academy unintentionally proved that, like the Hollywood industry they honor, they’ve got a long way to go.

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