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George Takei, Ang Lee and other Asian academy members protest Oscars jokes

A group of 25 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members of Asian descent have sent a letter to academy leaders objecting to jokes mocking Asians during February's Oscar show.

"We are writing ... to express our complete surprise and disappointment with the targeting of Asians at the 88th Oscars telecast and its perpetuation of racist stereotypes," said the letter, which was signed by members including director Ang Lee, actors Sandra Oh and George Takei and former academy governors Don Hall, Freida Lee Mock and Arthur Dong.

Addressed to academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Chief Executive Dawn Hudson, the board of governors, and Oscar telecast producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, the letter dated March 9 became public Tuesday morning in a Variety story just as the academy's 51-member board was meeting for the first time since the telecast. 

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The Feb. 28 telecast, which was packed with racially charged material related to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, included one bit in which Asian American children played accountants, and a derogatory joke about Asians by presenter Sacha Baron Cohen.

 "If you watched the Oscars the word diversity seemed to mean black and white. That was it," said Takei, reached by phone Tuesday morning. "We were absolutely aghast to see they componded that by having a joke about Asian American children. How insensitive and how ignorant."

The "Star Trek" star, who was held with his family in an internment camp during World War II, said he and other Asian academy members began emailing each other about lodging a protest the night of the show.

"I grew up in prisons behind barbed-wire fences largely because of those stereotypes," Takei said. "Asians were depicted as merciless villains to be laughed at. Now the stereotype is we're silent numbers counters or depicting child labor."

Documentary filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña said she and other Asian academy members were surprised to see the jokes in a year when diversity has been a significant issue at the industry group.

"Everybody was excited because we knew that the academy was responding to #OscarsSoWhite," Tajima-Peña said. "We were excited to see the telecast to see what was gonna happen. It kind of blindsided us. It was such a contrast to the language of moving forward, recognizing that this culture is multi-racial, multi-ethnic. It wasn’t even funny. It’s just dredging up really idiotic stereotypes."

In the letter, the members ask for the board to respond to their criticism.

"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 letter reads.

On Tuesday afternoon, the academy addressed the letter in a statement issued by a spokeswoman.

"The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive," the statement read. "We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive." 

Asians account for just over 2% of the academy's membership, according to a 2016 Times analysis.

At a closed-door Tuesday morning meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Pacific, the academy board was expected to discuss a postmortem on the telecast, as well as the implementation of a number of diversity initiatives passed in January.

The full text of the letter is 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-Peña, 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

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

1:06 p.m.: This story has been updated with a statement from the academy. 

The first version of this post was published at noon. 

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