Oscars: In Wake of Controversy, Academy Leaders Welcome New Asian Members (Exclusive)

Asian Academy H 2016
Kyle Espeleta on behalf of Royal Salute

In an effort to repair the relationship between the leadership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its members of Asian descent, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson attended and spoke at a Sept. 25 reception welcoming some 80 new Asians into the organization.

Relations became strained earlier this year when February's Oscars featured tasteless jokes about Asians, prompting 25 Asian members, including Ang Lee and George Takei, to send a letter of condemnation to the Academy, which then issued an apology and met with 15 members of Asian descent to hear their concerns.

The unprecedented September gathering, which took place at The London West Hollywood, was organized by a "host committee" comprised of incumbent Asian members: actors Peter Kwong and Jodi Long, director Chris Tashima, documentarians Arthur Dong and Freida Lee Mock (both former members of the board of governors), producers Janet Yang and Teddy Zee and publicists Laura Kim and David Magdael.

There are an estimated 250 Asians in the Academy (since the Academy does not publish a membership list, the exact number is difficult to assess), and all those known to the host committee were invited. Among those who attended: Grey's Anatomy star Sandra Oh, as well as current cinematographers branch governor Daryn Okada, past sound branch governor Don Hall, France Nuyen, James Hong, Jessica Sanders, Lisa Lu, Michael Goi, Mynette Louie, Renee Tajima Pena, Rita Hsaio, Peter Kwong, Irene Tsu, Ramona Diaz, Elizabeth Sung and Clyde Kusatsu.

Dong, a 1984 Oscar nominee for the documentary short Sewing Women and an Academy member since 1997, tells The Hollywood Reporter, "After a frank meeting with AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson and president Cheryl Boone Issacs to discuss action steps [in response to the Oscars controversy], a group of us wanted to keep the momentum going." He adds, "As Academy members, we've participated within our various branches as professionals in our respective fields; we've never organized under a racially based umbrella before. But having witnessed the tone-deaf jabs at Asians during the Oscars, compounded with the very recent, but century-long practice of whitewashing, yellow-face casting decisions by major film productions, we felt a need to come together over this integral part of our identities."

In response to widespread outrage over the absence of any acting nominees of color over the past two years, as well as the offensive jokes about Asians, the Academy created three new seats on its board for "diversity governors" who, unlike the others, would be appointed, not elected, and represent the interests of diversity in all meetings. One of the charter appointees is Asian-American director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda).