Academy Apologizes for Asian Jokes on Oscars, Vows to Be More Sensitive

Ang Lee
Jim Smeal/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATED: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences apologized on Tuesday for the Asian jokes on the Feb. 28 Oscar telecast, after receiving a protest letter signed by 25 AMPAS members, including Ang Lee.

An Academy spokesperson issued the statement, “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.” 

The letter asked for “concrete steps” to ensure that future Oscarcasts will avoid the “tone-deaf approach” to Asians that was exhibited last month. The protest was delivered in advance of today’s board meeting, where the Oscar show and issues of diversity are undoubtedly on the agenda. The missive was sent to the board, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, CEO Dawn Hudson, and ceremony producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill.

The letter said, “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% are Asians and potential moviegoers.”

In addition to Lee, other Oscar winners on the list include Chris Tashima (shorts and feature animation) and four members of the documentary branch: Ruby Yang, Steven Okazaki, Jessica Yu and Freida Lee Mock. Aside from Mock, two other former governors signed, Don Hall (sound branch) and Arthur Dong (documentaries). Another three signers were Oscar nominees: Christine Choy, Renee Tajima-Pena and Rithy Panh, again all docu-branch members.

Other signers were Yung Chang, documentary; Maysie Hoy and William Hoy, editors; Marcus Hu and Teddy Zee, executives; Janet Yang, producers; David Magdael and Laura Kim, PR; and six members of the actors branch: Nancy Kwan, Peter Kwong, Jodi Long, France Nuyen, Sandra Oh and George Takei.

According to the International Energy Agency, Asians represent 4.3 billion, or 60% of the population. However, they are estimated to represent less than 1% of the Academy.

Sources close to the show told Variety that Chris Rock made decisions about his material (including a series of jokes about Asian children), while Sacha Baron Cohen’s crack was apparently ad-libbed. However, at a time of heightened sensitivity with racial matters, many viewers were shocked that old Asian stereotypes were trotted out for a laugh.

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  1. Jason says:

    I will care more about asians being offended when I see more diversity in the movies in Asian cultures. Oh and also when they stop stealing all of America’s ideas.

    • Jason nique ta mère says:

      Really funny, when americans are the first one stealing others people idea with their remakes and live-action movies.
      You statement is retarded.

  2. MLK says:

    “a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians”?

    Uh, what about “a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal” of anyone without black skin, to all human beings?

    This was not just the worst Oscar show I have ever seen, but one of the worst things I have ever seen on network television.

    At no time did the host or his assistants come out and say e.g. “DeCaprio is white and therefore we cannot allow him to win an award because his talent is irrelevant; Spotlight has too many white people in it, so it must not win because its quality is irrelevant”, etc., but that was clearly their mindset. (I am only slightly surprised they did not call for quotas, affirmative action or busing. But apparently the MPAA will try to put into place at least those first two ideas.) They judged solely on the basis of skin color. They are racists. Their “dream” is a nightmare I repudiate. They have no business being on television. They–and Cheryl Boone Isaacs–owe the world an apology. And then Cheryl Boone Isaacs can do the responsible and honorable thing and resign for such horrible judgment.

  3. C Anderson says:

    Something missing in most of these comments is the fact that Asians are mostly infantilized in U.S. media, thus the kids as accountants. Asians are just like that, hard working, non-threatening, docile kids!

  4. Jackbequick says:

    It’s not just that there were negative or racially insensitive jokes/comments, it’s the fact that this was the ONLY way Asians were brought up during the show. Yeah – Chris Rock joked about numerous things about Whites but there was also POSITIVE PROGRAMING and obviously AWARDS being given to WHITES. How were Asians represented? They weren’t. Other than showing up as fodder for comedian’s jabs. Say – there were nominated Asian talent and even Asian talent in the AUDIENCE SEATS for Chr*st sake at the least – the blow wouldn’t be as low or as ignorant. Was there one Asian being represented even in the audience?

    Hollywood is way behind the culture trend. Not just with African American’s but Asians as well.

    I work in advertising and guess what ethnicity of actors are almost always hired in all national network commercials? Asians. They have to be represented according to corporate America’s advertising goals. Why? I don’t even need to say this but Asians spend money. If not full Asian’s mixed Asians, “ethnically ambiguous”. Why I’m saying this is that the Oscars and Hollywood still only want to push the idea of FOB like Asians, maybe a few pretty ones but barely. I look at the female Asian actresses that are hired on most shows and it almost seems as if Hollywood’s casting system is afraid to hire unique and beautiful looking people who are ethnic. They hire safe, cheesy looks.

    But they can’t say that’s what AMERICA wants because hey – walk into a callback session of most commercial castings. There are a ton of Asian/mixed Asian female and male actors who can act, look like NOW, are just as rad or radder than the cookie cutter CW actors they are churning out. Will they get a chance to ever get a great role in a film or tv show? Probably not, because there are the “lists” of the same actors, if they are white they all look the same and if they are Asian, they better not intimidate the white actress if they are female and if they are male, they better not try to be hot. Because that job is for the white CW actor.

    I’m going to conclude by saying – Hollywood needs to look at the advertising world. Oscars should grow up. As in – come into NOW.

  5. dee says:

    I thought Chris Rock was a fabulous host compared to previous hosts over the past 10 years or so. He was hired before the nominees were announced so he was in a hard place. He’s a comedian and he used his skills as a comic to attempt to talk about the problem with some humor. The Oscars are viewed all around the world so it was good to show what was going on.

    I must have missed the 2 racial incidents and I agree it should not have taken this long to apologize.

  6. Johnny Quan says:

    Yeah, as an Asian, the skit was a disappointingly hypocritical call for diversity in the Oscars, and can’t believe it took this long for a simple apology – *after* a gathered signed petition by Asian creatives.
    Some people, like in these comments, think it should be a compliment that we Asians are stereotyped with “positive” roles as the “model minority” – but actually, it implies: (1) we are not creatives or capable of creative jobs (2) not bold revolutionaries or capable of strong, independent “rebellious” attitudes, and (3) as the “model” minority, who follow the status quo system set by successful whites, they very word implies that we set an example for other minorities as blacks and Hispanics (“they can do it, why can’t you?”), and (4) because of this, it also implies we can never truly be equal to whites, as it is our hard work and dedication – our struggle – to have to achieve the same playing field that whites, the majority, established for themselves.
    All this implies that we are inherently, submissive characters to safety and stability – not visionaries.
    Also, I don’t need to hear another offensively racist (and extremely trite) “small penis” jab.

    Number 1 especially rings horribly here because of Hollywood’s continued glass ceiling oppression on Asians – when movies as Dragonball, 21, The Last Airbender, Aloha, Speed Racer, and upcoming films as Dr. Strange, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira continue to “whitewash” Asian roles with white actors.

    When we get cut out of media from diverse representations and made nothing more but as racial typecasts and butt of jokes, any other diverse individual personalities are rendered invisible in real life… there is in fact, a word for that in the social sciences: Symbolic Annihilation (look it up).

  7. MetaWorldPeace says:

    On behalf of all those who are offended in this country/world, I would like to offer an all-encompassing and astute comment/battle cry:
    (Clears throat) “Waaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh”

  8. Rex says:

    Everyone seems to forget that one of those “East Asian child accountants” was named David Moskowitz. Jews everywhere should be offended that a) everyone thinks they’re all about money and b) Asians are just as good with money. Rise up, people!

    • C Anderson says:

      It was also about Asian child adoption. Media often portray Asian kids adopted by Jewish families, like in Fresh Off The Boat. Also the scandal about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s adopted girl. So it was actually offensive to both groups.

  9. timegrrl says:

    Get Ellen or Billy Crystal… Forget Chris Rock.

  10. James says:

    The tone of the Asian skit at the Oscar ceremony was complimentary. It implied, stereotypically, that Asians as a whole are bright people who are good with numbers. I’m sure this is how Chris Rock, who approved the skit, must have understood it. To take offense is political correctness brought to its mind-numbing limits. The end game is a public discourse that knows no humor at all. I don’t think I’d want to live in such a world. It sure as hell wouldn’t be very entertaining.

    • stfrb says:

      Take a class on race in America…or read on a book on a how hurtful the Asian “model minority” myth is to not only Asians, but all races. People use that stereotype against other minorities who aren’t, supposedly, doing as well…”look at the Asians! They’re doing well! Why aren’t you??” type sentiments…

    • Xiaoyu Zhuo says:

      When I was in China, I heard a visiting African professor complained that everyone in the campus asked him if he can dunk. So why would he be offered by the “complimentary”? It implied, stereotypically, that blacks as a whole are athletic people who can play basketball.

  11. How convoluted is the thought process of the Academy Awards (and a lot of well-meaning self-flagellating people who hate themselves because they have been told to do so). Instead of fully rejecting and not acknowledging divisive rhetoric about so-called color-blindness, etc, they give in to whining crybullies and intentionally have Chris Rock host because of his skin color. That’s a consciously racial act. And now being offended by him is the Asian Hollywood community. Big surprise. Let’s all put ourselves into a speech straight-jacket where every word one says must be watched. Even better, let’s all be offended all the time.

    Try pulling this crud at the Golden Horse Awards, for example, or a ceremony in any other part of the world where most people have the same skin and hair color, they would just laugh you to death or not understand what you are talking about. Just make sure to use the word “racist” over 100 times per day. Get over it already, people have the right to free speech and their own opinion, and the right to defend themselves. It is called “discourse”, and it is a healthy thing.

    Who’s going to host it next year to appease the crybullies, a mystery-color person with a bag over their head?

  12. Ray Van Eng says:

    Isn’t that funny? Someone got offended by what others post and complained right away yet think others should just move on when they saw something that was offensive on TV.

  13. Henry says:

    Wow it’s incredible how easily people get offended now adays. There’s always someone crying about something. Jeez when did everyone become such a whiny bunch of pansies. Take it as a joke!!! Laugh or don’t and move on, that’s why nobody cares about these award shows your leaving them sterile and always walking on egg shells. Pathetic !!!!

  14. Ray Van Eng says:

    Shame on you, Chris Rock. You give the Oscars a bad name. I hope you never host again.

  15. Bp says:

    Comedians won’t have a stage to stand on anymore. There will be no jokes left to tell that wont offend somebody!

  16. teriekwilliams says:

    The black comic criticizes whites for racism, and the Asians criticize the black comic for racism. Funny. Maybe next time, leave the race stuff to 10% of the opening segment instead of the ongoing push on it and the insincere self-flagellation of guilty white liberal Hollywood.

  17. Ann says:

    Seriously, people are WAY WAY too sensitive. To think this is an “issue”? Give me a break!!!

    • James Aquino says:

      Apparently, whites don’t care because they’re not the ones being underrepresented by the media because THEY run the media-also, when the role gets reversed and given to a Person of Color, half the white world goes ape shit. It IS an “issue” because the stereotypes in Hollywood have gone on for far too long with minorities.

    • asian says:

      I like how you’re so offended by other people being offended, so much that you feel the need to express your hypocritical privileged opinion.

  18. The Ali G joke played on the audiences prejudices, it’s not racist to highlight someone’s own prejudices.

  19. luka naglić says:

    Don’t you think that the skit with the kids was aimed at rich, white people using child labor. And Ali G is a caricature of cultural appropriation.

  20. B.R. Hutchinson says:

    I found it disgustingly ironic that a black comic while effectively protesting the whole night against the exclusion of blacks in Hollywood with his monologue, then proceeds to make the most racist joke I have seen on the Oscars in decades. And using those kids? Vile!
    Oscarssowhite was never about equality for ALL races, it was just about the blacks trying to nudge the whites aside on the top of the bigotry pyramid.

  21. Wesley N. Smiffson says:

    Oh, and one other thing. To all you non-Asians that like to tell us to “lighten up, it’s just jokes”. If you’ve never had to live your entire life with stereotypes that were so deeply ingrained in society that they actually affected your careers and love life then kindly STFU.

    • JB says:

      Wesley,

      I just don’t get it. CR made a joke that Asian’s are intelligent and hardworking – sounds like a compliment to me.

      I’m black – my stereotypes are as deeply ingrained in society as it gets – and 99% of them are nowhere near being complimentary. I wish everyone in the world assumed I was intelligent and hard working just because I’m a certain race.

      I don’t find it offensive when people think I’m a good dancer or basketball player because I’m tall and black. It’s the stereotypes that assume I’m lazy, criminal minded, or unintelligent that are offensive.

      And he’s a comedian and it was a joke people. Lighten up! I remember back in the good old days when a comedian could tell a joke without everyone being offended.

  22. David Miller says:

    I was very surprised to see those children being mocked like that – particularly in this year, when the Academy has already been criticized, appropriately, for being insensitive. What were they thinking!

  23. Wesley N. Smiffson says:

    Sorry ‘Murica, Asians were your last hope at that cheap, mindless ethnic and racist humor some of you so desperately craved. Took you long enough but now you’re starting to realize that, just like Blacks and Hispanics, Asians don’t like to be the punchline to comics who can’t come up with anything original, either. I wonder how long morons like that Borat guy can last if they actually had to put some *GASP* thought into their humor instead of recycling stereotype-based “jokes” that have been around for centuries?

  24. CapitalP says:

    Glad they apologized, it was wrong for that joke to be greenlit.

  25. Nanny Mo says:

    It’s sad to see America become so hyper-sensitive.

  26. GKN says:

    So what did Rock and Cohen say that was offensive? We didn’t all sit through the entire show. This is a terrible article.

  27. harry georgatos says:

    Blacks will be voting for blacks then the merits of performance! They’ll be more racist towards whites and other demographics. It’s ridiculous giving nominations and awards based on skin color!

  28. Watched Oscars With Distaste says:

    FINALLY an apology.

  29. malcolm says:

    “Asians represent 4.3 billion, or 60% of the population. However, they are estimated to represent less than 1% of the Academy.”
    Ahh excuse me but the Academy doesnt represent the world,it represents mostly its members and the USA and i`am damn sure Asians dont make up 60% of either..

    • C Anderson says:

      But they do take up 6% of the U.S. population. Same as the Jewish population. Compare the stats of both groups in Hollywood representations. Food for thought.

  30. Alex says:

    Now? They’re doing it now?

  31. Bob says:

    Oh God, we are being soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo sensitive about
    evvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvverything. Lighten up, folks. Archie Bunker is spinning in his grave.

  32. Michael says:

    Chris Rock gets a B+ for his hosting under difficult circumstances. Okay, the Asian joke didn’t work. In comedy a lot of jokes don’t work. So if you don’t want to offend anyone, don’t hire a comedian to host and watch the ratings plummet even further.

  33. Appearing Tonight says:

    I think those racist jokes showcase Hollywood’s attitude towards folks not like them perfectly . . . .

  34. Decades-Long Oscar Viewer says:

    Once again, Cheryl Boone Isaac and Co. acting like schoolmarms, rapping children’s knuckles for rowdyism. “Will Chris Rock please report to the principal’s office?”

    • Julie says:

      He’s a hypocrite. Crying like a baby over no black acting nominees this year, using the whole telecast to air black grievances, but showing no sensitivity by making a racial joke about about another ethnic group.

      When they say “diversity” and “people of color” they mean black people only. Don’t be fooled.

  35. ed blank says:

    The mother of all apologies should be offered to police officers throughout America. Chris Rock’s remark about them was off-the-chart offensive. And, no, I have no affiliation whatsoever with the police. This year’s show was the worst ever in every respect. Keep your politicking to yourself, children.

  36. Bruce Yang says:

    Yes the Oscars and Chris Rock must be held accountable. Please support and spread the words.

  37. BillUSA says:

    I’m not the only one who detects a heaping handful of hypocrisy coming from Hollyweird. They speak of diversity when they really want dominance. You know, to seek what ‘white’ Hollywood has held for years. Quit whining about it and just do it for Christ’s sake. It ain’t like diversity is going to fall into your lap by speaking out about something that is merely a result of an old world. Talk gets you so far and quite frankly it’s been going on for so long now that it’s getting annoying. If you really want it, shut your mouth and go after it. What a sissified society we’ve got on our hands. I wish people would just toughen up and get whatever ‘it’ needs done.

  38. justahunch says:

    Despite a funny and well done monologue, it was obvious that Rock was himself being a bit racist never mentioning any other minority, but where does this end?!

  39. Jacques Strappe says:

    Rock’s Oscar performance was a mixed bag. He nailed it for the most part w/r/t the #OscarsSoWhite controversy but failed big time as he reinforced other ethnic stereotypes and made dismissive and vulgar LGBT jokes. I would give him a D+/C- grade overall but he was far better than Seth MacFarlane

  40. Amber says:

    Copting at its finest. Where were they before the Oscars? Black people has to do all the work, then here comes the Asian and Latino actors screaming what about us.

  41. Art says:

    Don’t make him Ang Lee. You wouldn’t like him when he’s Ang Lee.

  42. Michael Anthony says:

    They have a valid point. When one talks of minorities, it should mean ALL minorities.

    • Juan Rivas says:

      right, but why other minorities don’t speak in the right time?, only blacks take some action

      • Ann R says:

        Why shouldn’t they speak out though? Why are you so worried about people who will roll their eyes? Those same people roll their eyes at Black people. Oh, and I don’t buy that guilt thing. Please…. people in Hollywood that actively exclude minorities don’t have guilt, and neither do the people that will “roll their eyes” when minorities speak out on issues like this. If it’s an issue for you, it doesn’t matter what “some” will do. You’re never going to get them on your side because they’ve already dismissed you just based on how you look. Speak up. A closed mouth never gets fed. Waiting around for someone else to speak for you will only leave you unsatisfied.

      • satireknight says:

        They shouldn’t have to speak out. And when they do, people are more likely to roll their eyes and ignore them than they are when black people speak, because there’s no cultural history of guilt there.

  43. Swanson says:

    Chris Rock did a poor job hosting the Academy Awards. I hope he will never be asked again.

    • Sonny says:

      Chris Rock missed a great opportunity to UNITE, instead took cheap shots at Asians and glorified African/Americans, as if this was a Black/White world. AMPAS needs to quit pandering to the likes of Chris Rock and hold up its “brand” or suffer the consequences of really being boycotted, as threatened, of which the Oscars are its life blood and protect its financial well being.

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