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asian academy members protest ‘tone deaf’ oscars ceremony

Three-time Oscar winner Ang Lee and two dozen Academy members have written a letter of protest regarding the recent ceremony’s offensive and racist portrayal of Asians.

by Emily Manning
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Mar 15 2016, 8:35pm

At last month's Oscars ceremony, host Chris Rock was unrelenting in his biting (and justified) criticism of the Academy's appalling lack of diversity and inequality of opportunity for people of color in the film industry. Though Rock's brutal honesty was, in many respects, exactly what the Academy and the public needed to hear, the ceremony didn't exactly valorize all people of color. In fact, both he and presenter Sacha Baron Cohen made repeated racist remarks about Asians -- ones that Ang Lee and two dozen other members of the Academy are now protesting.

As Variety reports, the three-time Oscar winning director and other Oscar winners and nominees of Asian descent sent a letter to the Academy board "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," the letter read.

The letter -- which was presented to the Board of Governors President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, and Oscars ceremony producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill -- calls for "concrete steps" be taken to ensure that future ceremonies will not exhibit a similarly bigoted 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," the group wrote.

The letter emphasized the global reach of the Oscars' broadcast, pointing out that Asian people make up nearly 60% of the world's population. It noted these 4.3 billion people are "potential movie goers," but didn't remind the Board that those of Asian descent only comprise an estimated 2% of the Academy's over 7,000 members (the Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, but the LA Times has conducted extensive research into its demographic over a number of years).

These figures mirror recent sentiments expressed by actress Tao Okamoto, who explained how Asians are the "minority of minorities" in film. "We're still the minority of the minorities in Hollywood or acting field, but we are here and we are trying to be out for the people," the Superman vs Batman star argued, adding that when those of Asian descent are cast for roles, the projects are often fantasy-based.

As the Academy confronts its diversity problem with sweeping membership reforms, we hope institutions across the film industry will work to make Hollywood more equal for all people. 

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Text Emily Manning
Image via Flickr Creative Commons