Chris Rock’s Asian child skit slammed
A skit that comedian Chris Rock put on at the Academy Awards ceremony drew a backlash of criticism from members of the Asian American community and beyond as playing into old stereotypes of Asians.
Rock was generally praised for the way he dealt with the absence of black artists among Oscar nominees at the awards presentation on Sunday night in Hollywood. All 20 nominees in the best acting or supporting acting categories were white.
In presenting the skit that drew criticism, Rock said, “The results of tonight’s Academy Awards have been tabulated by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hardworking representatives. So I want you to please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moscowitz.”
He then brought on stage two boys and a girl of Asian heritage playing employees from the accounting firm, carrying briefcases and standing to the side as Rock finished his skit.
“Now if anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” Rock said, referencing the often-made stereotype about Asian child laborers.
People reacted across US and China-based social media and various other sites.
Justin Chang, Variety’s chief movie critic, tweeted, “Think my brain shut down for a few minutes. Did that appalling joke about Asian kids really happen?”
Constance Wu, one of the stars of ABC’s FreshOffthe Boat, tweeted, “To parade little kids on stage [with] no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive [and] gross. Antithesis of progress.”
National Basketball Association star Jeremy Lin expressed similar frustration: “Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians,” he tweeted.
Many others said that the joke, in light of the controversy over the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, was hypocritical.
“It felt completely incongruous with the whole tone and the broader picture that was trying to be painted about diversity,” said Phil Yu, who runs the popular Angry Asian Man blog.
“It just came out of nowhere and it was shocking — it wasn’t even a smart joke. It really felt super clumsy and out of place. You would expect something like that to happen on a bad sketch comedy show or on SNL, but at the Oscars?” he said.
Rock and the academy could not be reached for comment.
“Rock is of a minority group, yet he shows the lack of awareness and sensitivity to the fact that what he’s doing is very harmful,” said Wellington Chen, executive director at the Chinatown Partnership. “We’re in a very deep hole when it comes to negative stereotyping, despite all the good, decent, hardworking people that are here. This has been portrayed again and again.”
Chen said that jokes like Rock’s seem harmless on the surface, but can have much broader consequences down the line. Representations of Asians as nerds and overachievers hurt not only Asian students, but the community at large when it comes to gaining leadership positions at corporations, carrying the title of “perpetual foreigner”, or even an instance like Danny Chen, the Chinese-American soldier who committed suicide after suffering from racially-based hazing, Chen said.
Critics also pointed out that despite much talk about the lack of black actors and actresses in film and media, Hollywood and the general public have not even begun to have conversations about Asian actors, who have far less representation in TV and film.
According to a study released by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, at least half of all American movies, television and streaming stories released over the last two years lacked one speaking or named Asian or AsianAmerican characters. Figures compiled by the Economist show that only 1 percent of Oscar nominations ever went to Asian actors.
As part of a skit during the Oscars in Hollywood on Sunday, three children posed as accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Wellington Chen, executive director at the Chinatown Partnership