Director Paul Thomas Anderson defends ‘racist’ ‘Licorice Pizza’ scene that made viewers ‘gasp’

licorice pizza

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has defended a controversial scene in his new coming-of-age drama-comedy “Licorice Pizza” wherein a character uses a fake Asian accent.

The controversy: Some early screening viewers of the film reportedly “gasped” when they saw the scene, according to Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times.

  • The controversial scene shows a white male restaurateur, played by John Michael Higgins, imitating an Asian accent while speaking to his Japanese wife.
  • Although reviewers praised the film in general, earning it a 91% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, some singled out the scene for criticism.
  • In a review for Slate, movie critic Dana Stevens wrote that the joke about Higgins’ character having different “interchangeable” Japanese wives  “lands gracelessly.”
  • David Chen of the “Culturally Relevant” podcast said the scene “added virtually nothing to [the film].”

  • Director and screenwriter Karen Maine said it took her more than a week to process the “incredibly racist” and “pointless” scene that “mocks Asian accents.”

  • This kind of representation gives permission for others to behave this way towards Asians, and it rehashes this trope of Asians as the perpetual foreigner — a trope that has been part of our society since the 1800s,” sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen said about the scene.

His defense: Anderson justified the controversial “Licorice Pizza” scene in his Monday interview with the Times, claiming it is true to the 1970s period the film takes place in.

  • 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,” Anderson said. “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.”

“Licorice Pizza,” officially released on Nov. 26, is set in San Fernando Valley, Calif. and stars Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. Other actors featured in the film include Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits.

Featured Image via MGM

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