During this year's Oscars, host Chris Rock and presenter Sacha Baron Cohen came under fire when the former staged a skit playing off the stereotype that all Asians are good at math, and the latter made a quip about "yellow people with tiny dongs." Critics quickly took to Twitter in outrage over the jokes, and last week, 25 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who are of Asian descent sent the organization a letter demanding to know "how such tasteless and offensive skits could have happened."
After this year's Oscars broadcast, Arthur Dong, a documentary filmmaker and a former member of the Board of Governors, drafted the letter with his colleagues Freida Lee Mock and David Magdael, he told BuzzFeed News over the phone.
"We need to talk to our colleagues there and say, 'We don't like this. This is not right. What happened? Our name is on your roster of members. We have a right to understand why this came about,'" said Dong, who is also a film professor at Loyola Marymount University.
Dong, Mock, and Magdael sent the letter to the Academy last Wednesday in advance of the Board of Governor's meeting today. They reached out to other members, like Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, Star Trek actor George Takei, and Grey's Anatomy alum Sandra Oh, who all cosigned what they had written.
"These are not harmless jokes," Dong said. "It was shocking that in this celebratory mood, this would happen. ... Of course the question is about the two jokes, but there's a much bigger question: How has this been going on for so many decades since the invention of cinema?"
Dong said they chose to release the letter (which you can read in full at the bottom of this post) after it was leaked to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday. In an exclusive interview with THR shortly after the letter was published, Takei said he "was astounded at the obliviousness and the ignorance of the Academy people with regard to the notion of stereotypes." He went on to say he's looking for "an apology [from the Academy] for that shameful presentation."
The organization has since issued the apology Takei was looking for. "The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive," a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”
A representative for Baron Cohen said he was not available for a comment and a representative for Rock did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request.
Here is the letter in full, which Dong provided to BuzzFeed News:
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?”
“The Oscars anti-Asian racism was alive and well.”
“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.
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