Rafu Staff Report
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued an apology after receiving a letter of protest from 25 Asian American members of AMPAS, including Oscar winners and nominees, over jokes made during the Academy Awards program on Feb. 28.
Although the absence of African Americans among this year’s nominees for best lead or supporting actor/actress was a major issue throughout the program, critics have accused host Chris Rock and the show’s producers of hypocrisy because of jokes about Asians.
Three Asian children were brought on stage and introduced as accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulates the votes for the Oscars — an apparent reference to the stereotype of Asians being good at math. Rock then added that if anyone was offended, they could tweet about it on their phones, which were made by those same kids — a reference to child labor in some Asian countries.
Later in the broadcast, presenter Sacha Baron Cohen, appearing as his character Ali G, spoke about “hard-working, little yellow people” with small genitalia, then explained that he was referring to the Minions. According to Cohen, the producers did not know that he was going to appear in character or what he was going to say.
Actor and activist George Takei told The Hollywood Reporter, “Watching the show, that just gnawed at me, and then I got on the phone with friends and fellow colleagues in the Academy and we all agreed that this is unacceptable. And since the Board [of Governors] is having a meeting today [March 15], we thought this might be a well-timed release of our letter to the Academy.”
“People were all incredibly disappointed after all the hype of the Academy’s promises in response to the #oscarsowhite campaign,” Oscar-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña told The Rafu Shimpo. “There were promises that changes would be made, diversity would be honored, and measures would be in place to give people of color would have a place at the table. After all that hype, those not-very-funny attempts at humor were tone-deaf to say the least. It stung, as if Asians could be dumped on without repercussion.”
The letter, dated March 9, was sent to AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, CEO Dawn Hudson, the Board of Governors, and Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, producers of the Oscars ceremony. It reads:
“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 percent are Asians and potential moviegoers.”
The letter was signed by:
• Ang Lee, two-time winner for best director (“Life of Pi,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and four-time nominee
• Freida Lee Mock, winner for best documentary feature (“Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision”), five-time nominee and Academy governor for six years
• Chris Tashima, winner for best live-action short film (“Visas and Virtue”)
• Steven Okazaki, winner for best documentary-short subject (“Days of Waiting”) and four-time nominee
• Jessica Yu, winner for best documentary-short subject (“Breathing Lessons: the Life and Work of Mark O’Brien”)
• Ruby Yang, winner for best documentary-short subject (“The Blood of Yingzhou District”) and two-time nominee
• Arthur Dong, nominee for best documentary-short subject (“Sewing Woman”) and Academy governor for four years
• Renee Tajima-Peña and Christine Choy, nominees for best documentary feature (“Who Killed Vincent Chin?”)
• Rithy Panh, nominee for best foreign-language film (“The Missing Picture”)
• Documentary filmmaker Yung Chang (“Up the Yangtze”)
• Producer Janet Yang (“Dark Matter,” “Shanghai Calling”)
• Film editors Maysie Hoy (Tyler Perry’s Medea films) and William Hoy (“Watchmen,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)
• Actors George Takei (“Star Trek”), Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy”), France Nuyen (“The Joy Luck Club”), Jodi Long (“Sullivan and Son”), Nancy Kwan (“Flower Drum Song”), and Peter Kwong (“Big Trouble in Little China”)
• Executives Marcus Hu (Strand Releasing), Teddy Zee (Teddy Zee Productions, formerly with Columbia and Paramount)
• Don Hall, Sound Branch, recipient of John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation and Academy governor for 18 years
• David Magdael and Laura Kim, Public Relations Branch
The Academy’s initial response: “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.”
In a letter to the 25 Academy members, Hudson wrote: “Thank you for taking the time to voice your concerns about our 88th Oscar show, which are valid. We appreciate your perspective and take your points very seriously. It certainly was never the Academy’s intent to offend anyone.
“We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future Oscar telecasts be more culturally sensitive. It pains us that any aspect of the show was considered offensive, and I apologize for any hurt the skits caused.
“Our Awards Committee and Academy leadership will be exercising more oversight to make sure that concerns like yours are fully addressed.”
Takei was not impressed by the letter, which he called “patronizing” and “infuriating” in an interview with The New York Times. “It was a bland, corporate response,” he said. “The obliviousness was actually shocking. Doesn’t anyone over there have any sense?”
Tajima-Peña, whose latest documentary is “No Más Bebés,” agreed: “It was a weak, bureaucratic brush-off. I think there’s an expectation that Asian Americans will turn the other cheek. That’s a very wrong assumption to make.”
Tashima, who has appeared in such films as “Lil Tokyo Reporter” and “Under the Blood Red Sun,” said of Hudson, “There have been continued, direct emails with her (and some from the group that signed the letter), and we’re making progress. We expect a meeting to take place soon, which is all anyone would want or expect, at this (early) stage.
“I have felt/known throughout all of this recent episode that AMPAS is committed to diversity — since before this year’s #OscarsSoWhite — so I’ve not felt any need to go to battle with them (AMPAS). In fact, I defend the Academy and feel the real problems are at studios, and with producers, the decision-makers who are responsible with the whitewashed movies that got us here. The Academy is a reflection, not the cause.
“At any rate, perhaps Ms. Hudson’s letter could have been worded differently, but it’s kinda water under the bridge. We’re continuing to push ahead to make sure there is change.”