It wasn’t anything we haven’t heard before.
But in a year in which #OscarsSoWhite dominated headlines, awards host Chris Rock’s tone-deaf joke at the expense of Asian kids was a cheap shot.
In case you weren’t one of the estimated 65 million people around the world who watched the 88th annual Academy Awards telecast, Rock, a comedian known for his provocative take on race, used a trio of young Asian children as props for a joke about Asians being good at math.
The comic — who began his performance by welcoming people to the “white People’s Choice awards” — said: “The results of the awards have been tabulated by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.”
Instead of the usual PWC representatives entering the stage, Rock introduced the kids.
“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives. Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.”
To make matters worse, after a pause for the A-listers in the live audience to laugh politely while shifting uncomfortably in their seats, he continued with a kicker about child exploitation.
“If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids,” Rock said.
On social media, the outrage was immediate and nearly universal, with many accusing Rock of being hypocritical for “preaching about equality, then making a blatant racist joke about those Asian kids”.
“Umm, no @chrisrock. Using little Asian kids to joke about math stereotypes and child labor isn’t funny,” wrote Grace Hwang Lynch, a former television news reporter.
“WHAAAAAAAT was that joke with the Asian kids,” wrote Phil Yu, founder of the Angry Asian Man blog.
“Stupid joke about Asian kids and child labor. That’s the Asian-American representation on the #Oscars?” said the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Justin Chang, chief film critic at Variety, an entertainment trade magazine, was dumbfounded.
“Think my brain shut down for a few minutes,” Chang wrote. “Did that appalling joke about Asian kids actually happen?”
“How unnecessary to make fun of Asians on the #Oscars when Hollywood isn’t even evolved enough to give Asians Asian-specific roles yet,” said @frmheadtotoe, a popular Asian beauty blogger.
Others took offense at the children being the butt of a joke that they clearly didn’t get (although they surely do by now).
“So we’re all upset about the racial makeup of the Oscars but it’s OK to make fun of Asian kids onstage?” said Blake Hounshell, editorial director at Politico.
Constance Wu, star of Fresh Off the Boat, a TV sitcom that many say captures the essence of why diversity in media matters, said: “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.”
Rock, while largely praised by critics for his overall hosting performance, didn’t get off easy with his Asian blunder.
“[You] Lost my respect for your Oscar joke on Asian Americans,” said Alexander Liu.
“Promoting diversity at the expense of Asian kids IS NOT FUNNY. @chrisrock went across the line!” said @jiangyj.
“Worst superfluous Oscar joke goes to Chris Rock … Wtf was that with the Asian kids??” said @rawburger.
“You almost nailed the Oscars except for that clueless Asian kids thingy …” said @mdanishsuhail.
“Chris Rock no diversity hero for throwing Asian Americans under his #Oscar limo,” said @emilamok.
“Joking about Asian stereotypes and child slave labor didn’t garner a laugh from me @chrisrock #Oscars #DoBetter,” said @elielcruz, a culture commentator.
Adding fuel to the social media inferno was Oscars attendee Sacha Baron Cohen, who exploited another Asian stereotype.
“How come,” the comedian, in the guise of his revived alter ego, wannabe gangster Ali G, “there is no Oscra [sic] for them very hard-working little yellow people with tiny dongs? You know — the Minions.”
The response was to be expected.
“Hi did Sacha Baron Cohen just make a joke about Asian dicks?” asked @knguyen.
“My Asian parents taught me respect so I’m going to keep my mouth shut … you little piece of [emoticon of steaming pile of poop] #SachaBaronCohen,” said @chkevinlee.
“Not only Sacha Baron Cohen is ridiculously unfunny, but pretty sure he offended the entire Asian Community,” said @lifesprettyge.
“Sacha Baron Cohen is the worst,” said Nina Parker, host of Access Hollywood.
All told, a lot of people were upset about both examples of tasteless humor.
“Was that another anti-Asian joke just then, from Baron Cohen/Ali G? I can’t. No,” said former Washington Post reporter Suzy Khimm.
“Ali G bit = evening’s 2nd bottom of the barrel Asian joke,” said novelist Saladin Ahmed.
“So that’s TWO jokes at the expense of Asian actors. Don’t throw one minority down to raise up another, writers,” said Donna Dickens, a former editor at BuzzFeed.
Perhaps Wilfred Chan, a CNN writer based in Hong Kong, summed it up best: “@chrisrock’s asian kids gag, sacha baron cohen’s ‘yellow people/tiny dongs’ quip prove #Oscars’ barely-concealed disdain for diversity push.”
We’ll see if things get any better next year.
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