George Takei, who made his Broadway debut earlier this season in the new musical Allegiance, is one of 25 Asian members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who sent a letter this week to the Academy protesting Asian-related jokes that were made during the recent Academy Awards broadcast.
Chief among the complaints, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was a skit, introduced by host Chris Rock, that featured three young Asian children as accountants for the Academy. Sasha Baron Cohen, who was a presenter at the Oscars, also ad-libbed a racist stereotype about Asian men.
Takei, in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, said his reaction is related to Allegiance, which chronicled one family's experience in the internment camps during World War II. “That chapter of American history is still little-known, and I maintain that that happened, in large part, because of the stereotypes perpetrated by the media at that time — movies, but also radio dramas and cartoons and newspaper stories and stage plays,” Takei said. “The damage that stereotypes can do is enormous, and for the Academy that touted the Oscars as an Oscars about diversity to define the word 'diversity' as black and white left me aghast. I mean, diversity means much more than black and white. It means Asian-Americans, it means Latinos, it means LGBT people, it means Native-Americans, it means — particularly in today’s context — Arab-Americans. And yet it was a show in black and white — black-and-white pictures, like going back a half-century. I was astounded at the obliviousness and the ignorance of the Academy people with regard to the notion of stereotypes. And then they perpetrated that in today's context: They had Asian children dressed in tuxedos with briefcases as numbers-counters, which is a stereotype that Asians have today. Back in those days, we were depicted as merciless villains or obsequious servants or buffoons to be laughed at. And then, in that same skit, they talked about Asian children making computers and iPhones — har, har, har. I mean, for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is supposed to be made up of distinguished people — the elite of the motion picture industry — to be so oblivious and so ignorant of the worst stereotypes and the damage, the profound damage, that they can do? Watching the show, that just gnawed at me, and then I got on the phone with friends and fellow colleagues in the Academy and we all agreed that this is unacceptable. And since the Board [of Governors] is having a meeting today, we thought this might be a well-timed release of our letter to the Academy.”
The Star Trek veteran said he would like an apology from the Academy for the “shameful presentation,” adding, “But, more than that, it’s a commentary on the industry. The Academy can only nominate distinguished work in the motion picture business — particularly by actors, because they're the most visible group — when they've had the opportunity to play the kinds of roles that would be considered for an Academy Award. So this goes back to the people that greenlight productions. There needs to be more understanding that this is a diverse, global audience that they're playing to, and they've got to tell stories from the vantage point of that diversity, not just black and white. That is not the meaning of diversity; that's going back half a century.”
A spokesperson for the Academy told the industry website, “The Academy appreciates the concerns stated, and regrets that any aspect of the Oscar telecast was offensive. We are committed to doing our best to ensure that material in future shows be more culturally sensitive.”