Ang Lee, George Takei Among 25 Academy Members Protesting Oscars' Asian Jokes

"We found a lot of people who said, 'We're not going to accept this sort of joke anymore,' especially right after Cheryl Boone Isaacs gave that speech about diversity," one of the signatories tells THR.
Ang Lee  Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images

Twenty-five members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who are of Asian descent — among them two-time best director Oscar winner Ang Lee and former members of the board of governors Arthur Dong, Don Hall and Freida Lee Mock — have sent a letter to the organization protesting "tasteless and offensive skits" about Asians that were featured on the 88th Academy Awards on Feb. 28, the same ceremony at which the Academy's alleged bias against blacks was a primary focus of host Chris Rock.

The Oscar-night references to Asians that have members of the Asian community most upset: a skit in which Rock introduced three Asian children as Academy accountants, and comments ad-libbed by presenter Sacha Baron Cohen that insinuated that Asians have small genitalia.

The letter was delivered to the Academy — specifically, to its board of governors, president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, CEO Dawn Hudson and Oscar producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill — ahead of Tuesday's monthly board of governors meeting. Citing a number of articles that were critical of the Academy's jokes about Asians, including an op-ed written by THR's Rebecca Sun the day after the Oscars, it asks for "concrete steps" to "preclude such unconscious or outright bias and racism toward any group in future Oscars telecasts."

The letter's signatories are Oscar winners Lee (directors branch), Mock, Steven Okazaki, Ruby Yang, Jessica Yu (documentary branch) and Chris Tashima (shorts and feature animation branch); Oscar nominees Dong, Christine Choy, Rithy Panh and Renee Tajima-Pena (documentary branch); and Nancy Kwan, Peter Kwong, Jodi Long, France Nuyen, Sandra Oh, George Takei (actors branch), Yung Chang (documentary branch), Marcus Hu, Teddy Zee (executives), Maysie Hoy, William Hoy (film editors branch), Janet Yang (producers branch), Laura Kim, David Magdael (public relations branch) and Hall (sound branch).

Magdael, reached by phone on Tuesday morning, tells THR, "When that skit came up in the middle of the Oscars, we all went like, 'What?' There was a collective, 'That didn't just happen.' We found a lot of people who said, 'We're not going to accept this sort of joke anymore,' especially right after Cheryl Boone Isaacs gave that speech about diversity."

The Academy does not make available a complete list of its roughly 6,500 members, but Magdael says that people of Asian descent make up only a small percentage of the organization — "We had a group of 53 that we knew of" — and signatures were obtained from almost every member who could be reached. (He adds that, independent of the members' efforts, the influential Organization of Chinese Americans also sent Isaacs a letter that arrived this week.)

An Academy spokesperson tells THR, "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."

The full text of the 25 Academy members' letter appears below:

March 9, 2016                                                                                  

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President
Dawn Hudson, CEO
Members of the Board of Governors
Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, Oscars® Producers
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

RE:    “Oscars:  Why Make Cheap Jokes at the Expense of Asians?”
              (Hollywoodreporter.com)
           “The Oscars anti-Asian racism was alive and well.”
               (PsychologyToday.com)
            “Asian-American Jab at Oscars reveals deeper diversity woes”
               (Associated Press, Salon.com)

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.   

Sincerely,

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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