Estie Kung is the 8-year-old actress who was one of the three Asian children who walked out on stage during this year’s Oscars when host Chris Rock made a scathing joke about Asians. There is, unfortunately, more to the story now — Kung, along with her mother Laura, had no idea that her Asian ethnicity would be insulted.
Kung, who has appeared in “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown,” walked out on stage along with two little boys dressed in tuxedos as Chris Rock introduced them as accountants for the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers:
“The results of tonight’s Academy Awards have been tabulated by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. They sent us their most dedicated, accurate, and hard-working representatives. I want you to please welcome, Ming Tzu, Bao Ling, and David Moskowitz.”
“Yeah. It’s okay, it’s okay, thanks guys, thanks a lot. If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids.”
For some, it was a funny joke, but for Kung’s mother, it was insulting. Kung’s mother explained to PRI that she was told her daughter’s role would mimic that of a skit from Rock’s 2005 Oscars ceremony where two accountants were black:
“I did wonder, ‘Why all Asians?’ But I assumed there was a bigger picture, a more complex joke given all the emphasis placed on diversity at the Oscars this year.”
Laura Kung actively tries to find roles for her daughter where her Asian ethnicity wouldn’t be used as a joke or play on stereotypes. In the audition for the Oscars gig, they asked Estie if she got stage fright, which she said no, if she could do a serious face, which was a yes, and the audition was over. She had booked the gig. Laura Kung revealed:
“Going into every audition or job, I always try to determine the production’s motivation in seeing Asian talent. Often, they are looking at all kids and her race is irrelevant. Other times, I do feel like they need to have a whole ‘rainbow’ of talent, which is fine, but feels more contrived.”
During the Oscars rehearsal, Kung’s parents heard the entire joke and were faced with the fact that their daughter was about to be used as part of a racist joke, but they had already signed the contract and couldn’t back out. After talking to their daughter, the Kungs decided to take the most optimistic view of the situation possible. Laura Kung explained:
“This was not okay and should never have happened. 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.
“It’s hard seeing pictures of your daughter’s very serious face on stage associated with all of this. It’s definitely been a damper to all the joy she felt just being there.”
Estie didn’t understand Rock’s joke at the time and thought he meant that they designed phones, but she eventually got her own jab at Rock’s career, which she says she isn’t familiar with:
“I’ve never seen Madagascar.”