On February 28, 2016, comedian Chris Rick hosted the 88th Annual Academy Awards amidst accusations that the Academy lacked diversity and left out African-Americans from nominations. Some African-American actors like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith boycotted the awards show.
It was surprising then that Chris Rock, who is also African-American, would go forward and tell a racist joke against Asians. In setting up the joke, Chris Rick introduced three Asian children, two boys and one girl, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases, as “dedicated, accurate and hard-working accountants Ming Zu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz”– who were accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers – the firm that calculates the Oscar votes, playing into the stereotype of Asians as math whizzes. He went on to say that “If anybody is upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” making a reference to child labor in Asia.
Talking to Laura Kung, who is the mother of Estie, the eight-year old biracial actress in the skit, revealed that they did not know she and the other boys would be the butt of such a racist joke until rehearsals, which was after they had signed the contract for her to appear at the Oscars. Hearing criticism from well-known Asian-Americans like actress Constance Wu and NBA player Jeremy Lin fueled the rage many Asian-Americans felt. Being the voice for many Asian-Americans, Jeremy Lin tweeted: “Seriously though, when is this going to change?!? Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘ok’ to bash Asians smh #Oscars.” However, trying to look at the bright side of things, Estie’s mother is correct by saying that a positive factor from this controversy is that it has sparked discussion about anti-Asian racism and bashing in America. Getting people to talk about a sensitive issue and educating them is a good first step in change.