Parents of Asian Child at Oscars Didn’t Know Joke Would Be Racial

Host Chris Rock, right, and children participate in a skit at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The mother of one of the children featured in a controversial joke at the Oscars has spoken out, saying she did not know the punchline to the joke propagated Asian stereotypes before she allowed her daughter to participate.

Eight-year-old Chinese-American Estie Kung joined two other Asian children onstage at the Academy Awards last Sunday, where host Chris Rock introduced the trio as accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers who had helped to tabulate the Oscar votes.

“They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives,” Rock told the Oscars audience. “Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.”

“If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,” he added.

The joke led to widespread backlash from celebrities and commentators on social media, who took issue with what they called its racist stereotypes.

In an interview with Public Radio International this week, Estie’s mother Laura said she hadn’t known that the joke would be offensive before she signed the contract for her child to appear in the show. Laura Kung said she thought the joke would be tasteful given the #OscarsSoWhite diversity controversy swirling around the Academy.

“I did wonder, ‘Why all Asians?'” Kung 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.”

By the time the girl’s mother had learned the full context of the joke, eight-year-old Estie, who has been acting for at least the last three years, was already excited about participating in the ceremony. Kung decided that her daughter’s involvement might provoke a worthwhile “difficult public conversation,” and allowed her to participate, according to PRI. After the segment ended, Estie’s older sister texted her parents a screenshot of the negative reactions beginning to accumulate on social media.

“This was not okay and should never have happened,” Kung told PRI. “But the angrier people are and more people talk about it, the better it will be moving forward. Estie hopes to keep acting and we all hope for a time when she can be on that stage to honor her achievement.”