Chris Rock got mixed reviews for his performance as host of the Oscars.
He certainly took on the topic of racism in Hollywood head-on. But he’s been criticized for reducing inequality in Hollywood to a black-and-white paradigm. And he’s getting heat for using Asian-American kids to make jokes that were seen as enforcing stereotypes.
A little over a year ago, Chris Rock wrote a brutally honest opinion column in the Hollywood Reporter. He stated that Hollywood is a white industry, and he said that Latinos — despite being a huge presence in Los Angeles and the rest of the country — are virtually invisible in the movie world.
So when Rock was named as host of this year’s Oscars, and African-American filmmaker Reginald Hudlin was named a co-producer of the broadcast, there was hope that diversity would be fully represented on the show.
But that turned out not to be the case. The Frame asked Daniel Mayeda, Jeff Valdez, Rebecca Lehrer and Amy Choi to weigh in on Chris Rock's performance.
The Frame host John Horn spoke first with Daniel Mayeda, an entertainment industry litigator in private practice in Los Angeles. He’s also co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, a national group of media activists and arts organizations.
You and many millions of people watched the Academy Awards over the weekend. I'm curious what the coalition thought of Chris Rock's jokes about a couple of Asian kids during the Oscars ceremony.
It was very disappointing. I think this is the kind of thing where the context is very important. This is not an uncommon situation, to have Asians be the butt of jokes in a stereotypical fashion. But this comes at a time when there's a lot of attention focused on the makeup of Hollywood. So Chris Rock has a very courageous monologue, he goes after Hollywood — which is fine — except Asian Americans were completely invisible. The only inclusion for us was this very stereotypical, tired Asians-good-at-math type joke. In that context, it was a slap in the face.
Did the coalition reach out to the Academy to express its concerns?
There were some emails exchanged yesterday with the CEO of the Academy. [Dawn Hudson responded] only in the most general sense. The response was, We hear you, and we'll continue to address these issues in the future. I think next year, prior to the actual telecast, we as a community need to get more involved and influence aspects of the show.
Jeff Valdez is president of Valdez Productions and co-founder of the Latino-centric cable network, Sí TV.
You wrote an open letter to Chris Rock and Reginald Hudlin and you lamented that they took a narrow approach to diversity on the show. What point were you trying to make to both of them?
They had a terrific opportunity to showcase the true diversity of America, and it kind of broke my heart that they didn't. We can't think of diversity as a black-and-white issue in America, because it's not.
And yet that's pretty much what Chris Rock was going for. At the end of the ceremony, Alejandro Iñárritu talked much more broadly about the color of people's skin. Were you at least gratified by some of the things that he said?
Yeah. Alejandro's always spoken very well about these things. We all need to come together, not just at the Oscars. You read magazine articles about diversity, but then they immediately go to a black-and-white default. Again, what Chris did on the Oscars was nothing short of fantastic, and I understand some of the difficulty. But at the same time, the Girl Scouts — they could have had some Asian and Hispanic and white Girl Scouts there. Because that's what America looks like. It's not one or the other. I thought it was such a missed opportunity.
And you had actually been in touch with Reginald Hudlin prior to the Oscars, and had made some of these other points. What happened in that exchange?
I have a great deal of respect for him. Two months before [the Oscars] I reached out to him. I sent him a bunch of data. I called and texted and hounded him. And he reassured me and sent me an email, and said, Don't worry, you'll be included. Obviously I was disappointed with the result. But again, my intention is not to drive a wedge between communities — just to open up a real dialogue amongst all of us.
I sent him an email yesterday and said, Dude, what happened? I'm sure he'll call me. I believe we'll have a productive conversation about it.
REBECCA LEHRER and AMY CHOI
Rebecca Lehrer and Amy Choi are the co-founders of “The Mashup Americans,” a podcast about culture and identity.
You've probably been following all of the chatter. What do you make of the criticisms that are being leveled at Rock and the Academy?
Lehrer: We love Chris Rock. He makes me laugh and he's always made me laugh. That being said, we found that particular joke [about Asians] in such poor taste.
Choi: In hindsight, everybody can agree that putting young voiceless Asian children on the national stage with made up Chinese and Jewish names — not such a good idea. What's amazing to us was that that was not perfectly clear in foresight, that it even happened.
Chris Rock ignored Latinos and offended Asians. Were you surprised that he forgot what he'd written about [in the Hollywood Reporter], and that he made the diversity equation incredibly narrow?
Lehrer: Yeah. It was so disappointing because of that article and because of the way he speaks about identity. He says something like, Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You're in L.A. — you've got to try not to hire Mexicans. So you're wondering, how did that disappear?
This issue is incredibly polarizing. Do you think there's something good that can come of this?
Choi: I think the fact that we're here talking about it is incredibly positive and productive. We don't want people to be exhausted, or roll their eyes, when they see something like #OscarsSoWhite. But it being written about in the Post, in the Times, you know, here on The Frame — the fact that the conversation is happening at all is a huge leap forward.