Oscars 2016: Chris Rock Asians skit, Sacha Baron Cohen crude joke raise ire
Like many, Canadian actor Simu Liu was happy to see Oscars host Chris Rock immediately address the #OscarsSoWhite elephant in the room at Sunday’s Academy Awards
But the reduction of diversity to simply black and white, in addition to stereotyped jokes at the expense of Asians have underlined how marginalized many groups remain in Hollywood.
“As the night went on, I became more and more frustrated,” Toronto-based film, television and stage actor Liu told CBC News.
“Basically, what I got out of the night is that diversity as it pertains to people at the Oscars… was a question of white and black…First Nations, Asian, East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern — we were just not even visible.”
After the film academy’s all-white list of acting nominees this year led to widespread criticism ahead of the Oscars, Rock generally earned praise for addressing Hollywood’s systemic prejudice in his monologue and throughout the night.
However, his comments almost exclusively referenced blacks. For the most part, other minority groups (other ethnicities, female creators or the LGBT community) were not mentioned in context of more inclusion in the industry.
However, the night did include widely criticized bits that made Asians the butt of the joke.
In one of Rock’s segments, he introduced three Asian children who emerged onstage as PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants, relying on a tired stereotype about Asians being good at math.
“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives… Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz,” he said.
“If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids,” Rock added, with his joke sparking outrage online.
Another segment saw actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen turn up onstage in character as his clueless, wannabe-black persona Ali G to present the Oscar-nominated film Room. He made a crude, transparently racist joke.
“I know what you was thinking when I walked on, here comes yet another token black presenter,” he declared.
“But it ain’t just me brethren who has been overlooked, it is all people of all colours. How come there is no [Oscar] for those hard-working yellow people with tiny dongs. You know – the Minions.”
Cohen has since admitted that Oscar organizers had expressly asked him not to dress up as one of his comedic characters, but that he proceeded after Rock gave him a last-minute “thumbs up” when told of the plan upon Cohen’s arrival at the ceremony.
The British actor told a British outlet that he and actress wife Isla Fisher snuck the Ali G elements in and he faked food poisoning to change into his costume.
Sunday’s Oscars, which earned the lowest ratings in eight years, was a setback for diversity, according to a statement from Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Washington-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The show “exposed one of the failings of how we talk about race in America: race relations are not a black-white binary,” she said, according to the Associated Press.
“We need to work together to dismantle the systems that devalue the experiences of minority groups so we can see the tales of the diversity that have shaped our nation reflected accurately.”
The sentiment was echoed by Felix Sanchez, chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, also based in Washington.
“I was shocked that Latinos and Asians and Native Americans were not a part of [the Oscars] conversation,” Sanchez told AP.
“They have this idea that the paradigm is still black-white and they need to expand the conversation. That it was so narrow is indefensible.”