Director Paul Thomas Anderson responds to criticism of mock Asian accent scenes in ‘Licorice Pizza’

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  • Director Paul Thomas Anderson said he is “lost” in regards to criticisms that his acclaimed 2021 film “Licorice Pizza” is anti-Asian, describing the heavily scrutinized scene in which a character uses an Asian accent as “an idiot saying stupid sh*t” in an interview with IndieWire.
  • “Licorice Pizza” received backlash for a scene in which a white businessman named Jerry Frick, played by John Michael Higgins, speaks in an offensive, fake Asian accent to his Japanese wife.
  • When Anderson was told that the character’s racism could give viewers the permission to laugh at the stereotype, he said, “I’m certainly capable of missing the mark, but on the other hand, I guess I’m not sure how to separate what my intentions were from how they landed.”
  • He previously justified the inclusion of the controversial character, claiming that it stays true to the movie’s depiction of the 1970s period.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson said he is “lost” in regards to criticisms that his 2021 film “Licorice Pizza” is anti-Asian in a new interview.

The coming-of-age comedy-drama that has received multiple award nominations, features a white businessman character named Jerry Frick, played by John Michael Higgins, who, in a controversial scene, speaks in an offensive, fake Asian accent to his Japanese wife.

The character’s racism has drawn criticism, with some viewers complaining that the controversial scene does not add to the film’s main narrative but encourages the “egregious mocking of Asians in this country, sending the message that it’s OK to make fun of them.”   

In the interview with IndieWire, Anderson responded to the criticisms by stating, “It’s funny, because it’s hard for me to relate to. I don’t know. I’m lost when it comes to that. To me, I’m not sure what they — you know, what is the problem? The problem is that he was an idiot saying stupid sh*t? What do you think?”

When the interviewer explained that the character’s racism could give viewers “the permission to laugh at the stereotype, rather than his stupidity,” Anderson replied, “Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s a possibility. I’m certainly capable of missing the mark, but on the other hand, I guess I’m not sure how to separate what my intentions were from how they landed.”

Anderson had previously justified the inclusion of the controversial character, claiming that it stays true to the movie’s depiction of the 1970s period. 

“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,” he told the New York Times in November.

The director, who has collected over 10 Academy Award nominations throughout his career, received three 2022 Oscar nominations for “Licorice Pizza” in the categories Best Achievement in Directing, Best Original Screenplay and Best Motion Picture of the Year. This previously led to a call for a boycott of the film by Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA).

“The cringe-worthy scenes in ‘Licorice Pizza,’ which takes place in 1973, do not advance the plot in any way and are included simply for cheap laughs, reinforcing the notion that Asian-Americans are ‘less than’ and perpetual foreigners,” a representative for MANAA said.

Featured Images via “Licorice Pizza” 

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