Last night, Chris Rock forced Hollywood to confront its race problem.
Rock didn’t let up all night, using not just his slashing monologue, but nearly every appearance to make those in the audience face up to the lack of diversity in the room — particularly the ceremony’s exclusion of black actors, directors, and writers.
It was glorious.
A couple of jokes, however, came at the expense of a group just as frequently ignored and stereotyped by Hollywood: Asian-Americans.
In one bit, Rock brought out three kids to represent “PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountants,” a joke which appeared to trade on the stereotype that Asian and Asian-American kids are good at math.
“It’s OK, it’s OK, thanks guys, thanks a lot. If anybody is upset about that joke just tweet about it on your phone, that was also made by these guys,” Rock said, apparently, jokingly, referring to the charge that iPhones are often made under poor labor conditions at the FoxCon factory in Shanghai.
Later in the program, Sasha Baron Cohen (as Ali G) drudged up one of the oldest, crudest stereotypes in the book for a gag.
“I is here representing all of them that’s been overlooked,” he said as he took the mic.
“How come there’s no Oscar for them very hard working little yellow people with tiny dongs,” he said. “You know, the minions.”
So … yeah. That’s an “Asian-American men have small penises joke,” folks. At the Oscars.
Yellowface — white actors portraying Asian characters on screen — is an unfortunately common practice in movies, ranging from the just-kinda-boneheaded (Emma Stone in “Aloha”) to the weird (Fisher Stevens in “Short Circuit”) to the grotesque (Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
Even when portrayed by actors of the same ethnicity, Asian or Asian-American characters in movies are often conceived as one-note stereotypes or the butt of a joke (“Van Wilder’s” Taj or “Sixteen Candles” Long Duk Dong).
Needless to say, Twitter wasn’t here for it.
A hashtag was started in response…
…as commenters called on Hollywood to do better.
Others used the tag #RepresentAsian, in reference to “Fresh Off the Boat” actor Constance Wu’s insistence that even though she plays a mother of Asian descent on TV, she doesn’t need to “represent every Asian mom ever.”
Fun Fact: More white actresses have won #Oscars for playing Asians than actual Asian actresses have won. Period. #OscarsSoWhite— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) February 28, 2016
The silver lining to Rock and Baron Cohen’s stumbles? An often invisible prejudice is now getting some much-needed attention.
Progress is already being made on TV, by shows like “Master of None,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which feature nuanced, complex Asian and Asian-American characters in leading roles.
But as more and more people speak out, the more likely it becomes that the film industry will start to get the message too.
And the bigger push they get? The more likely that there will be a lot more celebrating at next year’s ceremony — by actors, writers, and directors of all genders and ethnicities.