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Oscar-nominated Licorice Pizza is slammed over character’s mocking Japanese accent by Asian groups


Oscar-nominated dramedy ‘Licorice Pizza’ has been criticized in recent months over several scenes where one of the film’s characters speaks in an exaggerated Japanese accent with his on-screen wife – but the director is defending his film, saying ‘what’s the problem?’  

Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age film, set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, has garnered three nominations at Sunday’s 94th Academy Awards: best picture, director and original screenplay.

But the film also faces accusations of racism by some Asian groups because of a couple of controversial scenes in which a white male restaurant owner, played by actor John Michael Higgins, speaks to his wife – and again to his second wife – in a mocking Japanese accent. 

The film, which rolled out in limited release over Thanksgiving, received backlash on social media and from some Asian groups. 

One TikTok user said she was so disturbed by the scene she had to ‘literally leave the theater because it was so deeply upsetting.’

Podcaster Dave Chen tweeted, ‘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— sucks.’

The film’s director addressed he backlash, telling the New York Times that the scenes matched the 1973 setting and that ‘it would be a mistake to tell a period film through the eyes of 2021.’  

Oscar-nominated dramedy ‘Licorice Pizza’ has been criticized in recent months over scenes where one of the characters (pictured) speaks in an overly exaggerated Japanese accent with his on-screen wife

Paul Thomas Anderson accepts the award for Best Director for 'Licorice Pizza' onstage during the National Board of Review annual awards gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on March 15

Paul Thomas Anderson accepts the award for Best Director for ‘Licorice Pizza’ onstage during the National Board of Review annual awards gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on March 15

‘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,’ Anderson said, citing the stepmother of his wife, Maya Rudolph, Japanese jazz singer Kimiko Kasai. ‘I don’t think they even know they’re doing it.’ 

Most recently, in February, just months ahead of the Oscars, Indiewire asked Anderson about the complaints. 

‘It’s kind of like, ‘Huh?’ I don’t know if it’s a ‘Huh’ with a dot dot dot,’ he responded. ‘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 s—?’ 

The complaints come amid a wave of hate crimes targeting Asian women in the United States.  

According to Stop AAPI Hate, between March 2020 and December 2021, 10,905 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islanders were reported, 69.8% of which were directed at women. The majority of reports (66.9%) were incidents of harassment. 

In 2020, the year ‘Licorice Pizza’ was filmed, anti-Asian hate crimes in Los Angeles increased by 76%, according to the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, as well as nationwide, per the FBI, the LA Times reported. 

The character (pictured) speaks in an overly exaggerated Japanese accent with his on-screen wife and again with his second wife in the film 'Licorice Pizza'

The character (pictured) speaks in an overly exaggerated Japanese accent with his on-screen wife and again with his second wife in the film ‘Licorice Pizza’

The Oscars will be held at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 27 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles

The Oscars will be held at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 27 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles

The Oscars will be held at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 27, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and will be broadcast live on ABC.

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes are taking the stage to co-host the ceremony, which has been without an emcee for the past three years.

 The 10 movies competing for best picture this year are: ‘Belfast’; ‘CODA’; ‘Don´t Look Up’; ‘Drive My Car’; ‘Dune’; ‘King Richard’; ‘Licorice Pizza’; ‘Nightmare Alley’; ‘The Power of the Dog’; ‘West Side Story.’



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