An Asian American activist group is calling for an awards boycott of director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza" over its use of a fake Asian accent.
In the film, a white male restaurateur, played by John Michael Higgins, speaks to his Japanese wife with a fake Asian accent. He appears again in the film with another Japanese woman, his new wife, and he repeats the attempted gag.
While the film has garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews and generated a ton of awards buzz, some critics and people on social media blasted it for its depiction of racism without any pushback from its characters.
"Due to the casual racism found in the movie 'Licorice Pizza,' the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) believes that Paul Thomas Anderson's film is not deserving of nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Original screenplay, and is asking other film critic associations to pass over it this awards season," MANAA said in a statement Dec. 18.
"To shower it with nominations and awards would normalize more egregious mocking of Asians in this country, sending the message that it's OK to make fun of them," the group said, noting the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by more than 73 percent in 2020, according to corrected data the FBI released in October. That was a disproportionate uptick compared to hate crimes in general, which rose by 13 percent.
A representative for Higgins and Anderson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Anderson addressed the criticism in an interview last month with The New York Times, in which the Times journalist said the accent was “so offensive that my audience actually gasped.”
Anderson responded: “I think it would be a mistake to tell a period film through the eyes of 2021. You can’t have a crystal ball, you have to be honest to that time. Not that it wouldn’t happen right now, by the way. My mother-in-law’s Japanese and my father-in-law is white, so seeing people speak English to her with a Japanese accent is something that happens all the time. I don’t think they even know they’re doing it.”
Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen has previously said that while Anderson acknowledged that the movie was a "period" piece, the scenes still depicted racism “unfiltered.”
“If there are no consequences, scenes like this can almost glorify this behavior,” Yuen said. “You’re not laughing at [Higgins’ character] because he’s making fun of someone else. You’re either laughing with him at the expense of Asians or you’re going to be upset as a viewer.”
MANAA said the "cringeworthy" scenes did "not advance the plot in any way" and reinforced "the notion that Asian Americans are 'less than' and perpetual foreigners."
The film, which rolled out in limited release over Thanksgiving weekend, is a coming-of-age comedy-drama that stars Alana Haim (of the band Haim) and Cooper Hoffman (the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), two young people growing up in the San Fernando Valley of California in the 1970s.