Chris Rock boldly tackled the #OscarsSoWhite issue at the 88th Academy Awards this year. He brought attention to the fact that “black lives matter”; that black actors needed more opportunities and slammed those who boycotted the Oscars by pointing out that there are far more serious real world issues that need addressing than Oscar nominations. However, he himself contributed to the controversy of underrepresentation and Hollywood racism when he brought onstage three Asian children posing as “bankers” for the PriceWaterhouseCopper firm.
“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard working representatives,” Rock said. “Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.” The joke played on the myth of Asians and Jews being good at math and academics. As if anticipating the negative reaction to this, Rock said that those upset by his joke may tweet about it. “If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone—that was also made by these kids.”
His words not only highlighted that racism is not limited to black people but also to other ethnic communities. His comment about phones being made by kids was also a reference to child labour.
The three kids appeared somewhat overwhelmed by the glitzy atmosphere of the Oscars night, facing an audience filled with celebrities. It didn’t help that there were not asked to say anything. The kids just stood there, having nothing to say.
Social media users immediately slammed Chris Rock and the Oscars for its insensitive portrayal of Asians.
Constance Wu, the “Fresh Off the Boat” actress, tweeted “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.”
“Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians smh,” tweeted Jeremy Lin, former American professional basketball player.
Actor Jeffrey Wright also had something to tweet. “Half-assed Asian joke, #Oscars, and then preach about diversity? #LoseMe.” He also added in a second tweet that the Asian Joke from Chris Rock needed re-calibrating. “Asian/”Jewish” kids #Oscar joke needed re-calibrating. #OscarSoWhat?”
There was even less attention on Hispanic actors who are twice as underrepresented as black actors at the Oscars. This was pointed out in this Washington Post article by writer Dan Zak, examining the complexity of the diversity issue in Hollywood.