The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences surely knew what it was getting into by inviting Chris Rock and his edgy, sometimes controversial, humor to its Oscar stage. But it likely didn't expect the blowback it received for one quick sketch Rock did during the Feb. 28 broadcast that has since forced the organization to apologize.
That apology, however, is not going to be enough.
"Star Trek" icon George Takei joined a number of other Asian-Americans in Hollywood to decry a sketch at the Oscars where Rock brought out three young Asian-American children as if they were the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants in charge of counting votes. Rock ended the bit making a joke about child labor.
Takei and others like director Ang Lee felt the attempt at humor went too far.
"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," said the letter to the Academy, which was published in the Los Angeles Times. "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."
Takei himself was personally angry about what he saw, saying the Academy forgot to be inclusive in its attempts to be inclusive.
"If you watched the Oscars, the word 'diversity' seemed to mean 'black and white.' That was it," Takei told the Times earlier this week. "We were absolutely aghast to see they compounded that by having a joke about Asian-American children. How insensitive and how ignorant."
The Academy quickly released a statement more or less apologizing for what happened at the telecast, although Rock himself remained silent. Dawn Hudson, the chief executive of the Academy, said the concerns addressed by Takei and others were "valid."
"We appreciate your perspective and take your points very seriously," she said. "It certainly was never the Academy's intent to offend anyone. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future Oscar telecasts be more culturally sensitive."
"It pains us that any aspect of the show was considered offensive, and I apologize for any hurt the skits caused."
Takei did not like what he heard.
"It was a bland, corporate response," he told The New York Times. "The obliviousness was actually shocking. Does anyone over there have any sense?"
Hollywood's treatment of the Asian community has taken a long time to turn, and still seems to be missing significant progress. Reporter Elaine Teng of New Republic detailed the plight of the Asian-American community in Hollywood, saying in one skit, Rock perpetuated three common stereotypes about Asians and Asian-Americans: the model minority student born a math genius, the foreign child laborer who assembles tech gadgets for low wages, and the silent obedient immigrant.
"The PWC skit was easy to condemn because it was so obvious," Teng wrote. "But much of the racist humor about Asians these days is subtler — sometimes the joke is simply that the actor is Asian. Which is a progress, of a sort. The common joke used to be that the actor was not Asian, but a white person performing an Asian stereotype.
"Asian humor today is more insidious, and thus tougher to combat."
Teng highlighted one incident which included "Star Trek: Voyager" actor Garrett Wang, who played Ensign Harry Kim in the series. Wang said he once auditioned for a part of a Japanese mobster, and decided to channel a little bit of actor Toshiro Mifune. However, the casting director stopped him, telling Wang it was the wrong accent.
Wang switched to a more stereotypical Cantonese access, Teng said, that the 1930s character Charlie Chan. When the director applauded that accent, saying it was what she was looking for, Wang walked out, and ultimately did not get the part.
"Many casting directors' idea of what makes a good Asian actor derives from Hollywood's previous depictions of Asians, creating a vicious circle in which Hollywood perpetuates a homogenous Asian identity," Teng said.
Hollywood is long overdue when it comes to treating Asians and Asian-Americans with respect, Takei said, touching on his time during World War II when his family was forced to live in internment camps with other families of Japanese descent.
"I grew up in prisons behind barbed-wire fences largely because of those stereotypes," Takei told the Los Angeles Times. "Asians were depicted as merciless villains to be laughed at. Not the stereotype is we're silent numbers counters, or depicting child labor."