Coming-of-age comedy Licorice Pizza, which is set in 1970s Los Angeles, has drawn criticism for having contentious parts where a white character imitates his Japanese wife using a racist accent.
Since the movie’s November 2021 debut, critics and viewers have argued over whether the scenes merely represent a racist character or whether they are inherently racist. However, the problem reappeared in March 2022 when a clip of the sequences went viral on Twitter, just after director Paul Thomas Anderson won a BAFTA and a Critics Choice Award for the movie.
Two sequences from the movie Licorice Pizza, which stars Cooper Hoffman as high school freshman Gary Valentine and Alana Kane, a troubled 25-year-old, are seen in the trailer (Alana Haim). The film evokes the spirit of the ’70s with its vibrant attire and ethereal soundtrack, and it also integrates the politics of the day, which are rife with misogyny, racism, and homophobia. For instance, in the world of Licorice Pizza, people don’t find it odd at all when an adult and a young teen are hanging out together (another plot choice that has prompted debate in the discussion over the film).
Here’s the Tweet by David Chen
However, there is a distinction between portraying the politics of the day and exploiting those politics to illustrate racist attitudes. Before the 2022 Oscars on March 27, where Licorice Pizza is nominated for three Academy Awards, it has been raised in question as to what exactly that difference is. What you should know is as follows.
Controversial scenes from Licorice Pizza
Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins), who runs The Mikado, a Japanese restaurant with his wife Mioko (Yumi Mizui), is one of Gary, a high school student and actor who also has a passion for business, and his mother’s clients.
Two distinct movie moments are the source of the issue. In the first, Mioko and Jerry are discussing a potential restaurant advertisement at the advertising agency when Jerry pretends to have a Japanese accent when speaking to her, as if she is unable to understand English on her own and that using this accent would help. His wife and the other people in the scenario seem uneasy.
Later, Jerry introduces his “new wife,” Kimiko (Megumi Anjo), a fellow Japanese woman, in a scene at The Mikado. Once more, he addresses her while imitating a Japanese accent. Alana inquires as to what Kimiko said when she replies to him in Japanese. “It’s difficult to say. I’m not Japanese-speaking, says Jerry.
The movie would be out of date if it didn’t depict the sordid conduct that was normal in 1970s America, and Anderson includes many of these scenes: Her boss gropers Alana. One of the casting directors criticizes her “Jewish” nose.
A local politician is monitored for his covert homosexual lifestyle. Racism against Asians was prevalent in this environment. The actual Jerry Frick, owner of the Mikado, had two wives who were of Japanese origin, and many of the characters and settings in the novel are based on the real San Fernando Valley.
The controversy surrounding Anderson’s sequences, however, is not about how he portrays racism per such, but rather how he does so.
How has Paul Thomas Anderson handled the criticism?
As soon as Licorice Pizza had a broad distribution in November 2021, controversy over this moment started to erupt, and almost immediately, journalists started interviewing Paul Thomas Anderson about the sequences with Higgins. Anderson describes the situation in a November interview with the New York Times as “I believe that telling a historical drama via the perspective of 2021 would be a mistake. You must be truthful to that moment; you cannot use a crystal ball.
He also makes a point to mention that since his father-in-law is white and his mother-in-law is Japanese, he has frequently witnessed this particular event. Maya Rudolph, whose father Richard is wed to the late Japanese jazz artist Kimiko Kasai, is Anderson’s companion.
Following additional public scrutiny of the sequence in a February 2022 interview with IndieWire, Anderson again addressed criticism, in this case individuals smiling in response to the racism in the scenario. On the other hand, I believe I’m not sure how to distinguish between what my objectives were and how they landed. “I’m absolutely capable of missing the mark.”
In a statement, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) criticized the movie’s scene and demanded that it not be considered for any prizes. The cringe-worthy scenes in “Licorice Pizza,” which takes place in 1973, are only featured for cheap chuckles and reinforce the stereotype that Asian Americans are eternal foreigners and “less than,” according to MANAA.