Rock's Asian joke at Oscars draws backlash

Chris Rock.
Chris Rock.PHOTO: REUTERS
Actress Jennifer Lawrence (above) shows up at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills in a sexy black number, while singers Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton make their red-carpet debut as a couple at the same event.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence (above) shows up at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills in a sexy black number, while singers Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton make their red-carpet debut as a couple at the same event.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Actress Jennifer Lawrence shows up at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills in a sexy black number, while singers Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton (both above) make their red-carpet debut as a couple at the same event.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence shows up at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills in a sexy black number, while singers Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton (both above) make their red-carpet debut as a couple at the same event.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Amid generally positive reviews of his jabs at Hollywood and #OscarsSoWhite, the host of Sunday's Oscars ceremony, Chris Rock, is being taken to task for some of his material involving Asian Americans.

Introducing the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulates the voting results, he instead brought onstage two boys and a girl of Asian heritage, whom he named Ming Zu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz. As they clutched briefcases, they visually illustrated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at mathematics.

"If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids," Rock added, a punchline interpreted as a reference to child labour in Asia.

Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as Ali G, also made a swipe - involving Minions and "little yellow people" - that many found offensive.

Fresh Off The Boat actress Constance Wu tweeted her disappointment: "To parade little kids on stage w/no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive & gross."

In a new study, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that at least half of the movies, television and streaming series released over the last two years had no speaking or named Asian-American characters.

Overall ratings for the show, broadcast on ABC, tumbled to near record lows. They declined by roughly 8 per cent from last year's telecast - which itself was considered a ratings failure - as 34.3 million viewers watched Rock deride the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

It was the lowest-rated Oscars in eight years, according to early Nielsen data, and the third-lowest since Nielsen began tracking viewership in the mid-1970s.

Among the likely reasons for the decline: Black viewers, upset about a second straight year of all-white acting nominees, may have tuned their TVs elsewhere. Many of the nominated films were not widely seen by mainstream audiences.

On Sunday, a cameo introducing "minority outreach" official Stacey Dash, a conservative actress who had criticised Black History Month on Fox News, seemed to perplex much of the audience.

And singer Sam Smith had an awkward night. In accepting the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the Bond thriller Spectre, he stood onstage with songwriter Jimmy Napes and said: "I read an article a few months ago, by Sir Ian McKellen, and he said no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar, and if this is the case - and even if it isn't the case - I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world."

His comments drew swift reaction online because it seemed he had misread McKellen's comments and was also flat-out wrong. In January, McKellen was speaking of the Best Actor category to The Guardian.

The list of gay and lesbian Oscar winners, in general, is not short, however, whether they were out at the time or not. For instance, Smith forgot two fellow British winners: John Gielgud won Best Actor In A Supporting Role in 1981 for Arthur and Elton John won Best Song in 1994 for Can You Feel The Love Tonight from The Lion King.

Gay Spanish director Pedro Almodovar won for writing Talk To Her (2002). Then there is Dustin Lance Black, who received the Academy Award in 2009 for Best Original Screenplay for Milk.

Smith's flub was not taken lightly by Black, who got personal on Twitter. Not only did he remind Smith he had won the Oscar, but he also told him to stop texting his fiance, British diver Tom Daley.

Smith defended his error on Monday on Twitter. He also issued a mea culpa and an olive branch, of sorts, to Black. "Belated Congrats on the Oscar," he posted.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Rock's Asian joke at Oscars draws backlash'. Print Edition | Subscribe