Fake Asian Accents have been slammed by critics on Oscar hopeful Licorice Pizza. Here’s Everything You Need to Know
It has been pointed out that Licorice Pizza, which takes place in Los Angeles in the 1970s, contains several problematic scenes in which a white character mimics his Japanese wife with a racist accent.
Critics and viewers have argued since the film’s November 2021 debut on whether the scenes show a racist character or are racist in their entirety. In March 2022, when filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson won both a BAFTA and a Critics Choice Award for the film, a clip showcasing the sequences became popular on Twitter.
Two sequences from the film Licorice Pizza are shown in the trailer, which follows Cooper Hoffman’s character Gary Valentine, a high school freshman, and wayward 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim).
To depict the ’70s mood, as well as the political climate, the film features a lot of misogyny, racism and homophobia. In the world of Licorice Pizza, it’s perfectly normal for a middle-aged couple to hang out together, and vice versa (another plot choice that has prompted debate in the discussion over the film).
However, there is a distinction to be made between describing historical politics and exploiting historical politics to portray racist beliefs. Licorice Pizza is nominated for three Academy Awards at the upcoming 2022 Oscars, which will be held on March 27. Here’s all you need to know about this.
Scenes from Licorice Pizza that have sparked debate
An advertising agency Gary helps his mother manage is one of Gary’s clients is Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins), who runs The Mikado, a Japanese restaurant with his Japanese wife Mioko (Yumi Mizui).
Two specific scenes in the film have sparked debate. With Mioko present in the advertising office, Jerry pretends to have an imitation Japanese accent when discussing a potential advertisement for the restaurant, as though speaking in this accent will help her understand him better because he can’t understand her native tongue.
There is a palpable sense of unease among his wife and other characters in the scene.
Jerry introduces Kimiko (Megumi Anjo), who is also Japanese, in a later scene at The Mikado. Again, he mimics a Japanese accent when speaking to her. At first, Alana doesn’t understand what Kimiko is saying. “It’s hard to tell,” he says. In Jerry’s defence, he doesn’t know any Japanese.
The film would be out of place if it didn’t feature some of the more shady practises that were common in 1970s America. Her boss makes unwanted sexual advances against Alana.
A casting director notices her “Jewish” nose and compliments her on it. a local politician is being spied on because he is secretly gay. Anti-Asian prejudice was the norm in this environment.
Many of the characters and locations are based on the San Fernando Valley, and Jerry Frick, who owned the Mikado, had two wives of Japanese origin, therefore the story is based in fact.
Even though Anderson’s scenes illustrate racism, the disagreement over them derives from how he portrays it.
In light of the criticism, here is how Paul Thomas Anderson responded
As soon as Licorice Pizza was released in November 2021, journalists began interviewing Paul Thomas Anderson about the sequences with Higgins in the film. On the New York Times, Anderson described the sight as a “wonderful place.”
In my opinion, it would be a mistake to tell a period picture from the perspective of 2021. If you want to know what will happen in the future, you can’t use a crystal ball.
As a result of marrying into such a diverse family (his wife’s mother is Japanese and her husband’s father is Caucasian), he’s seen this scene many times before. (Maya Rudolph, Anderson’s partner, is the daughter of actor Richard Rudolph and jazz vocalist Kimiko Kasai, a retired Japanese jazz singer.)
Following more public scrutiny of the sequence, Anderson again replied to criticism, notably individuals laughing because of the racism in the scenario, in a February 2022 interview with IndieWire. On the other hand, “I’m not sure how to separate what my objectives were from how they landed.” I’m absolutely capable of missing the mark.
This film’s scene was condemned by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), who demanded that it be removed from award consideration.
“The cringeworthy scenes in ‘Licorice Pizza,’ which takes place in 1973, do not advance the plot in any way and are inserted purely for cheap chuckles, perpetuating the image that Asian Americans are ‘less than’ and ‘permanent outsiders,'” wrote MANAA in their statement.
As of this writing, none of the film’s actors have responded to the negative reviews.
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Beyond Licorice Pizza, Anti-Asian Bigotry Is Depicted
Licorice Pizza is not the first film to depict anti-Asian prejudice in a provocative manner. Among the highest-grossing films released between 2010 and 2019, 43% of the roles played by Asian Americans were comic relief.
What makes the interactions between Jerry and his wives so polarizing is that some regard her as being teased for her accent while others see him as a clown.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a film by Quentin Tarantino, sparked a similar debate in 2019. The film is set in late 1960s Hollywood and follows an actor and his stunt double as they travel about Hollywood, encountering real and imaginary people and events.
In one scene, Brad Pitt’s stunt double Cliff Booth and Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee square off in a physical fight on the set. After Lee has knocked Cliff out in the first round, Cliff has Lee’s body thrown into a car, and the fight is called off.
According to Shannon Lee, whose father was one of Hollywood’s few Asian movie stars at the time, the sequence was viewed as disrespectful by many viewers, including Shannon Lee.
“I feel like he was picked on in the manner that white Hollywood picked on him in life,” Lee told the Los Angeles Times of Tarantino’s treatment of her father. “He appears to have gone out of the way to make fun of my father and to represent him as kind of a clown,” Lee added.
Anti-Asian bigotry and violence are on the upswing, prompting some to criticize Licorice Pizza for its use of a faux Asian dialect. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 339 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year.
The shooting at an Atlanta spa, which claimed the lives of eight individuals, including six Asian women, took place exactly one year ago today, on March 16. Trump referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” when the pandemic began. Anti-Asian rhetoric swelled afterward.
“To shower it with nominations and awards would legitimize more egregious mocking of Asians in this country, sending the message that it’s OK to make fun of them even during a time when Asian Americans are afraid to go out on the streets because of the unprecedented levels of violence from fellow Americans blaming them for COVID-19,” MANAA wrote in a statement on Licorice Pizza.