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Academy Is Right To Apologize For Chris Rock's Jokes

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized on March 14 for jokes made by host Chris Rock about Asian people during the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony.

The decision has only come after a host of actors and celebrities of east Asian origin -- including George Takei, Sandra Oh, Ang Lee and Jeremy Lin -- criticized the Academy's decision to allow jokes that were based on racial stereotypes, according to The Guardian.  

Given the persistent criticism of the Academy's lack of diversity during this Oscar season, which ultimately led to the popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, Rock's jokes came off as condescending and completely tone-deaf.  The Academy is right to apologize for the jokes, even if it took more than three weeks to do so.

So what did Rock say during the Academy Awards, exactly?

CNN reports the offensive remarks began when Rock brought "the accountants" of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulated the Oscar results, on stage.  The 'accountants', who Rock praised as the firm's "most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives," were three children of east Asian descent wearing tuxedos and carrying briefcases and who Rock introduced as "Ming Zhu, Bao Ling, and David Moskowitz."

In other words, he introduced them by appealing to the stereotype of Asians as extremely studious and hardworking.  Worse stereotypes exist, to be sure, but it was not a good start.

But what came after was much more terrible.  Rock continued on with the joke, seemingly anticipating the backlash against it but following it up with something perhaps even more tasteless:

"If anyone is upset about that joke you can tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids," said Rock, in a joke that implied child labor.

The whole episode was an exercise in undermining one of the key themes of this year's Oscar ceremony and the #OscarsSoWhite movement: diversity.  While Rock is said to have handled the #OscarsSoWhite controversy commendably, The Guardian reports that the accountant joke was included at Rock's request and that the parents of at least one of the children were unaware of the full context before the show was broadcast.

Speaking to Public Radio International, one of the mothers of the children, Laura Kung, said:

"I did wonder, 'Why all Asians?' But I assumed there was a bigger picture, a more complex joke given all the emphasis placed on diversity at the Oscars this year."

She added that the jokes were not okay and "never should have happened."

Chris Rock was not the only person at the Awards show who comedically appealed to offensive stereotypes about Asians; presenter Sacha Baron Cohen would make a joke later in the ceremony about "hard-working little yellow people with tiny dongs".

The criticism leveled against Rock's jokes about Asian people at the Academy Awards is entirely warranted and should have been expected, given the heightened and often tense dialog about diversity in Hollywood which has been occurring.  If #OscarsSoWhite is about promoting diversity in the film industry, then comments like Rock's serve to undermine that eventual goal.

A spokesperson for the Academy has said it understands the concerns over Rock's comments and said that the Academy would strive to be more 'culturally sensitive' in the future.  As it should be.

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Sources: CNN, The Guardian, PRI / Photo credit: ABC/Adam Taylor via HNGN

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