Thursday, March 3, 2016

Oscars postscript — All-white Hollywood is missing out

First posted in Asia Times.

Whether by design or coincidence, Hollywood’s response to rising criticism of white dominance and lack of diversity was to have Chris Rock, an African American, host the Academy Awards. Rock, a well-known actor and standup comic, is arguably nearly as handsome as OJ Simpson and much better looking than Bill Cosby.
Al Jolson cartoon
Al Jolson cartoon
In his opening monologue, amid barbs and one-liners, Rock lamented the lack of opportunities for black people. So far, so good. Then Rock trots out three young Asian children, one with an alleged Jewish surname, and introduces them as the employees of the major accounting firm that audits award ballots for the Academy. To accentuate the point, the young girl wore dark horn rimmed glasses.
Accountants are supposed to be good at math and otherwise bland and without personality. That was a joke on Asian Americans.
Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin
Prominent Asian Americans such as NBA star, Jeremy Lin, objected to the stereotyping of Asian Americans that made them the butt of Rock’s joke. Lin, of course, graduated from Harvard and could easily be cast as the Asian stereotype, except he ignited a few weeks of “Linsanity” on the basketball court in Madison Square Garden that shattered that image.
First, Rock objected to the unfair treatment of the blacks by the whites, and then he stepped across the racial divide to share a joke at the expense of Asian Americans with whites. I suppose two tokens (Rock and the Asian kids) make one white.
Oscar night came shortly after the conviction of New York police officer, Peter Liang. He had accidentally shot Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, while on patrol. Unluckily for Liang, his trial was held as the “Black Lives Matter” movement protesting police killings of innocent black men swept the US.
Old 'Fu Manchu' movie poster
Old ‘Fu Manchu’ movie poster
A New York Times review of the history of shooting of unarmed African Americans by New York police officers showed that in all prior cases, the officers were either not charged or not convicted on the grounds that the shooting was unintentional, occurred while in line of duty or because the officer wasn’t properly trained for the task he was assigned. Officer Liang’s case bore all these circumstances. Yet he was charged, tried and convicted.
Mickey Rooney in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'
Mickey Rooney in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
This was clearly a case of finding an Asian American as the scapegoat. The only way to make a national statement that Asian Americans are no longer convenient stereotypes or scapegoats is to overturn Liang’s conviction. Let him be tried under an environment of equal justice and not by overwhelming public opinion against all cops.
Basketball fans can’t help but notice a recent NBA TV spot celebrating the Chinese New Year with a table of a traditional Chinese family gathering that included James Harden, NBA star for Houston, Jeremy Lin of Charlotte, and Steph Curry of Golden State. Curry even hoisted a cup and rendered a nice “kan bei” toast to the audience for the New Year. The NBA obviously had a huge and growing fan base in China in mind.
Hollywood should learn from the NBA. China is also becoming a major cinema market for Hollywood. Rock noted the other night that many established African American stars didn’t even get nominated for Oscars. That’s a problem. But while they’re attending to that problem they should address another by beginning to invite Asians to the table.

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