The Academy Apologizes After Called Out for "Tone-Deaf" Asian Jokes

By  Tom Huddleston, Jr.

Once again vows to be "more culturally sensitive."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences once again found itself apologizing for insensitivity.

The issue of race in Hollywood was front and center at this year’s Academy Awards, as the host—comedian Chris Rock—used his opening monologue to deliver a scathing take on the movie industry’s lack of diversity. Then, later in the evening, Rock made a much-criticized joke stereotyping Asians.

After an outcry from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, as well as several other prominent Academy members, who blasted the “tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday issued an apology. “The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”

More than two dozen prominent members of the Academy—including Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, as well as actors George Takei and Sandra Oh—signed a letter sent last week to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the rest of the organization’s leadership in which the members said that last month’s telecast “was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.” The letter, which takes exception to jokes told by Rock and presenter Sacha Baron Cohen, came from a group of film industry veterans who all identify themselves as being of Asian descent.

The Rock joke in question came mid-way through the February show and it featured three Asian children as the basis for jokes about sweatshops and the stereotype that Asians are good at math. Later during the event, the comedian Cohen (acting as his alter ego, Ali G) made a joke about the movie Minions that also seemingly referenced Asian stereotypes.

The jokes were especially unfortunately timed considering the fact that Rock had put in such an effort to address the controversy over this year’s lack of non-white acting nominees during the telecast’s opening. The outcry over this year’s Oscar nominations led to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trending, while the Academy and Boone Isaacs announced changes to the organization’s membership and governance structure in January aimed at improving diversity among Academy voters in the future.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Cheryl, Dawn, Members of the Board of Governors, Reginald and David:

We are writing as Academy members of Asian descent to express our complete surprise and disappointment with the targeting of Asians at the 88th Oscars telecast and its perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity. Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians.

We’d like to know how such tasteless and offensive skits could have happened and what process you have in place to preclude such unconscious or outright bias and racism toward any group in future Oscars telecasts.

We look forward to hearing from you about this matter and about the concrete steps to ensure that all people are portrayed with dignity and respect.

We are proud that the Oscars reach several hundred million people around the world of whom 60% are Asians and potential moviegoers.


Don Hall, Sound Branch, John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, Academy Governor, 18 years

Freida Lee Mock, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner, Academy Governor, 6 years

Arthur Dong, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee, Academy Governor, 4 years

Ang Lee, Directors Branch, Two-time Academy Award winner

Chris Tashima, Shorts and Feature Animation Branch, Academy Award winner

Christine Choy, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee

David Magdael, Public Relations Branch

France Nuyen, Actors Branch

George Takei, Actors Branch

Janet Yang, Producers Branch

Jessica Yu, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner

Jodi Long, Actors Branch

Laura Kim, Public Relations Branch

Marcus Hu, Executives Branch

Maysie Hoy, Film Editors Branch

Nancy Kwan, Actors Branch

Peter Kwong, Actors Branch

Renee Tajima-Pena, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee

Rithy Panh, Documentary Branch, Academy Award nominee

Ruby Yang, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner

Sandra Oh, Actors Branch

Steven Okazaki, Documentary Branch, Academy Award winner

Teddy Zee, Executives Branch

William Hoy, Film Editors Branch

Yung Chang, Documentary Branch


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