Licorice Pizza comes under fire for a scene with a fake Asian accent… despite critical acclaim

Director Paul Thomas Anderson returns with his first feature film in four years with Licorice Pizza, which has come under fire for a controversial scene.

The scene in question involves a restaurant owner played by John Michael Higgins, who owns the building with his Japanese wife, with the story set in 1973.

The character speaks with his wife with a fake Asian accent, and he appears again with another Asian woman where he employs the same accent, which did not sit well with fans, even those who otherwise enjoyed the movie.

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Under fire: Director Paul Thomas Anderson returns with his first feature film in four years with Licorice Pizza, which has come under fire for a controversial scene

Neither Higgins nor director Anderson responded to requests for comment by NBC News, though a number of fans and critics are talking on Twitter.

‘Picture this: You’re watching Licorice Pizza. It’s brilliant. Then, early on, a buffoonish character drops an Asian caricature. The (mostly white) audience laughs. And now, you gotta think about that laughter the rest of the film. Did you picture it? Because it f***ing sucks,’ said film critic Dave Chen.

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Writer-director Karen Maine said she saw the film, which opens in limited release on Friday, last week.

Picture this: ‘Picture this: You’re watching Licorice Pizza. It’s brilliant. Then, early on, a buffoonish character drops an Asian caricature. The (mostly white) audience laughs. And now, you gotta think about that laughter the rest of the film. Did you picture it? Because it f***ing sucks,’ said film critic Dave Chen

Limited: Writer-director Karen Maine said she saw the film, which opens in limited release on Friday, last week

‘I saw #LicoricePizza over a week ago and it’s taken me this long to process it. There’s an incredibly racist, seemingly pointless (other than a cheap laugh, which it got at the screening I was at) scene that mocks Asian accents,’ Maine said.

She added in another tweet, ‘It was beautifully shot and incredibly well-acted by all, esp Alana (Haim) and Cooper. I thought it was too long and I never really connected enough with the two main characters for a worthy pay off at the end. 

Maine concluded, ‘The whole Haim family and Bradley Cooper were my fave parts. But that pointless, racist scene ruined the whole film for me, and more people need to call PT out on it.’

Great: Henry Ahn added, ‘Licorice Pizza is great but I was reminded that it has extremely uncomfortable scenes with a white man speaking in the most obscenely offensive mock Asian accent to his Asian wife. Cringe was unbearable. Cringe at the scene but also at the theater full of white people laughing’

Henry Ahn added, ‘Licorice Pizza is great but I was reminded that it has extremely uncomfortable scenes with a white man speaking in the most obscenely offensive mock Asian accent to his Asian wife. Cringe was unbearable. Cringe at the scene but also at the theater full of white people laughing.’

Filmmaker So Yun Um added in her tweet, ‘Damn, can’t us Asians ever have anything nice? Some of my fav white male Directors: PTA, Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve all have been making real amazing films lately and then there’s a fake Asian accent or a sneaky Asian character trope. Let it end.’

Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen said the criticism appears to be warranted, because the film itself doesn’t take Higgins’ character to task for his actions.  

Nothing nice: Filmmaker So Yun Um added in her tweet, ‘Damn, can’t us Asians ever have anything nice? Some of my fav white male Directors: PTA, Wes Anderson, Denis Villeneuve all have been making real amazing films lately and then there’s a fake Asian accent or a sneaky Asian character trope. Let it end.

‘It’s irresponsible to use racism against Asians as a running gag,’ Yuen said, though she admitted she hasn’t seen the film yet.

She did notice, though, the plot is, ‘not even about Asians or race, and what it does is normalize this violence, this casual anti-Asian racism.’

‘Racist stereotypes like the accent are a cheap way of getting laughs because you don’t need to explain anything — even though there is nothing funny about accents,’ Yuen said.

 

Irresponsible: ‘It’s irresponsible to use racism against Asians as a running gag,’ Yuen said, though she admitted she hasn’t seen the film yet

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