Plenty of people, the actress Constance Wu and NBA star Jeremy Lin among them, have attacked Chris Rock’s hurtful jokes about Asians during his hosting of the Academy Awards last weekend. But perhaps the most poignant criticism comes from someone who felt the sting more than most: Laura Kung, the mother of one of the three Asian children Rock briefly brought onstage for his jokes.
“This was not OK and should never have happened,” Kung told PRI.
The jokes came during a skit in which Rock introduced the “dedicated, accurate, and hard-working” accountants responsible for counting the votes for the night. Calling them “Ming Zhu, Bao Ling, and David Moskowitz,” he then welcomed the tuxedo-wearing, briefcase-toting children. After playing on the stereotype of Asian-Americans (and Jews) being model minorities who are good at math, he doubled down on the off-color humor, saying, “If anybody is upset about this joke, just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids.”
Kung, who is white and married to a Chinese-American, has been taking her daughter Estie to auditions for three years. They’ve enjoyed success with various projects, including the show Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown when it toured Asia.
Kung learned about the nature of Rock’s joke during the audition for the Oscars skit. ”I did wonder, ‘Why all Asians?'” she told PRI. “But I assumed there was a bigger picture, a more complex joke given all the emphasis placed on diversity at the Oscars this year.”
Turns out there wasn’t. It was simply a racist gag feeding on persistent stereotypes and involving the children on stage in a joke about child labor in Asia.
Kung did offer a hopeful take on the outrage that followed the skit: “The angrier people are and more people talk about it, the better it will be moving forward.”
The reality, though, is that it remains difficult in Hollywood for minority actors to find substantive acting roles untinged by stereotypes, and Oscar nominees are usually white. Rock actually did an excellent job of skewering Hollywood over its diversity problem—until he threw Asians under the bus with the help of three unwitting children, with Kung and millions more looking on.