Asian-Americans Speak Out Against Chris Rock’s Asian Oscar Jokes
Chris Rock who has received general praise for responding to the dissatisfaction in the black community about the lack of African-American nominees in the Oscars this year, included a tasteless gag, among a few other badly-received jabs, towards Asian-Americans. Now, Asian-Americans (and others) are speaking out.
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
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) February 29, 2016
— Arden Cho (@arden_cho) February 29, 2016
The gag that most people are complaining about is the two young Asian kids, with a young “Jewish” kid, who were brought on stage as “Oscar accountants,” making fun of the model-minority stereotype which befalls both the Asian and Jewish population.
“If anybody’s upset about that joke,” Rock added, “just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.”
This time Rock was poking fun about the Chinese labor that goes into many of America’s beloved products.
Racist jokes aren’t new to any race, but what’s significant about this time is the Asian-American response to this joke, rising on social media and in the press in a way that has never been seen before. Karin Wang, the Vice President of Programs & Communications at Asian Americans Advancing Justice attributed this to the “already heightened sensitivity to race more generally in this year’s telecast due to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign” which largely left out Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans which are also underrepresented and stereotyped in the media.
Rock’s gag came right after the two big Asian winners of the night, who were of British-Indian, not Asian-American, descent: Asif Kapadia for his documentary Amy and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for her documentary short, A Girl in the River.
The other uncomfortable Asian jab came from Sasha Baron Cohen in character as Ali G who said, “How come there’s no Oscar from them very hard-working, little yellow people with tiny dongs?” Not even leaving a moment for the discomfort to settle he added awkwardly, “You know, the Minions!”
While the other jokes of the night seemed like satire on black-white race relations or stereotypes, these jokes seemed more blatantly insensitive. People have been quick to point out that these children were being laughed at, not laughed with, like many of the African-American adult actors who were featured that night (although when it comes to Stacey Dash, maybe she was the only one laughing, if she was doing that at all).
“Never mind that in the last 20 years, Asian-Americans have become the fastest growing targets of hate crimes and violence because of the model minority myth that they are ‘smart’ and ‘hardworking,'” criticized Anthony Berteaux in The Huffington Post, “Never mind that these very youths are being targeted because they are stereotyped as ‘submissive'”
Realizing that the jokes for the Oscars goes through rounds of approval shows that these jokes reflect on the fact that the industry still doesn’t understand what the calls for diversification mean. To milder critics, Rock’s jokes still seem like a missed opportunity for him to point out that diversity means far more than the inclusion of both blacks and whites. There wasn’t any mention of Latinos at all.
Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at U.C. Irvine, said, “The writers who created the skit revealed just how much the industry needs to diversify, and diversify beyond the Black-White framework.”
The true sting of the Asian-American jokes, many critics add, is that there were scarcely any Asian faces on stage or even in the audience. In a new study, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that at least half of the movies and television series that have been released over the past two years have no speaking or named Asian-American character, and when the are presented it is rarely in leading roles. While no black actor was nominated for an Oscar this year, there also were no Asian or Latino actors and there probably have not been for many more than two years. As the ringing statement of the rising outcry, Asian-Americans are using the hashtag #onlyonepercent to reflect the fact that Asian-Americans have only received 1% of Oscar nominations to date.