After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy Awards ceremony, broadcast from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, was supposed to be about one thing: diversity. With no people of color nominated in any acting categories, ever-vigilant host Chris Rock rewrote his monologue to address Hollywood’s seeming inability to include minorities, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced changes intended to increase diversity among its members. It seemed impossible that the Oscars could slight underrepresented groups more than they already had.
Then Rock, in the minds of many, dropped the ball, bringing three Asian children to the stage portraying “bankers” from finance firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard working representatives,” he said. “Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.” He added: “If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.”
The stereotype — Asians as math wizards or child laborers — seemed, um, off-color on a night intended to include everyone already excluded by the “white” nominating process.
“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,” a letter dated March 9 sent to the Academy by prominent artists, including George Takei of “Star Trek” and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, read, as CNN reported. “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.”
Now, Oscar has said sorry.
“The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive,” an Academy spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. “We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”
Rock was not immediately available for comment, and appears not to have commented on the controversy since the Oscar broadcast. Of late, his Twitter feed seems devoted to derailing Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Though Rock’s monologue was widely praised, he and the Academy were widely pilloried after the broadcast for the “banker” bit. As The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera put it: “There was a lack of diversity in the lack of diversity.”
“The Asian jokes were not just a blip in the night,” Lowen Liu of Slate wrote. “They were a huge deflation. The black-white dialectic is central to the American experience, and other people of color follow and participate in that dialogue with a fighting interest, and even with understanding when we get sidelined on a night like this. But we don’t expect to be the butt of it.”
Some also found the Academy’s apology wanting. The Verge deemed it “weak.”
“It was a bland, corporate response,” Takei told the New York Times. “The obliviousness was actually shocking. Doesn’t anyone over there have any sense?”
Page Six, meanwhile, wondered whether the Academy had thrown Rock “under the bus.”
“This is massive hypocrisy on the part of the academy,” an unnamed “Hollywood source” told the tabloid. “It wasn’t a surprise — they knew about this joke because it was rehearsed by Rock with the child actors in front of over 100 people before the show, including the academy’s representatives and the actors’ guardians or agents. Nobody had a problem with it at rehearsal.”
Rock, it should be noted, has spoken out against political correctness in the past.
“I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” he told Vulture in 2014. “… Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault.”
The Academy, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that it had appointed three new governors — Reginald Hudlin (Directors Branch), Gregory Nava (Writers Branch) and Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Short Films and Feature Animation Branch). The Los Angeles Times deemed the new governors “diverse.” Academy members Gael García Bernal and Effie Brown — the center of a racial controversy on the HBO show “Project Greenlight” — were among others promoted to leadership positions. The Academy, reported to be 91 percent white and 76 percent male in February, also reaffirmed its commitment to “make sure Academy voters are active in the motion picture industry.”
“I’m proud of the steps we have taken to increase diversity,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement. “However, we know there is more to do as we move forward to make this a more inclusive organization.”
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