Asian activist group demands boycott of ‘Licorice Pizza’ over ‘racist’ scenes

Asian activist group demands boycott of ‘Licorice Pizza’ over ‘racist’ scenes

By Ben Cost

Not everyone has praise for this hit movie.

Activist group The Media Action Network for Asian Americans is urging the film academy to boycott Paul Thomas Anderson’s acclaimed film “Licorice Pizza” over scenes that it believes promulgate anti-Japanese sentiment.

Its statement was first shared to LA-based rag Rafu Shimpo on December 17, but is currently gaining steam on social media.

The message read, “Due to the casual racism found in the movie ‘Licorice Pizza,’ the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) believes that Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is not deserving of nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Original Screenplay.”

MANAA also implored other “film critic associations to pass over it this awards season.”

The group was referring to several moments in the Oscar-nominated 1970s dramedy, one of which involves white restaurant owner Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins) adopting a stereotypical Japanese accent while asking his wife Mioko (Yumi Mizui) to review an ad for their Japanese restaurant.

In another controversial scene later on, Frick employs the same mocking voice to inquire what his new wife Kimiko thinks of a waterbed. She responds in Japanese without subtitles, prompting the main character, Alana Kane, to ask her husband to translate, to which he responds, “I don’t speak Japanese.”

“The cringeworthy 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,” MANAA stated. It added that showering the film with “nominations and awards would normalize more egregious mocking of Asians in this country” during the nationwide uptick in violence against Asians due to the COVID pandemic.

In conclusion, it called upon “voting members of the Academy and other film critic associations not to reward Anderson for the racist portrayals of Asians in his film.”

Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in "Licorice Pizza."
Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim in “Licorice Pizza.”

Needless to say, MANAA’s proposed Oscar embargo resonated with many on social media, with one advocate tweeting, “Stop normalizing Asian Hate.”

“Thx for calling this out,” seconded Chinese-American film producer Mynette Louie. She also implored fans to support the acclaimed 2021 Japanese flick “Drive My Car” instead.

However, some film buffs felt as if the critics were taking the scenes out of context.

“I didn’t see the film but I’m not sure why a fictional guy saying a racist thing needs to be protested,” argued one “Licorice Pizza” defender. “Movies have to show bad guys doing bad things. Otherwise how do you know they’re bad? If somebody got murdered in the film, would you protest that? Of course you wouldn’t.”

Another argued that “The restaurant owner was just another example (throughout the film) of how men objectify women.

“ALL the men, except for a 15 year old boy, are jerks,” they added. “This was set in the 1970s, a time when women were discovering their own power.”

From left: "Licorice Pizza" star Alana Haim, poses with her sisters Este and Danielle Haim for a portrait in Los Angeles on Feb. 22, 2021.
“Licorice Pizza” star Alana Haim (from left) poses with her sisters Este and Danielle Haim for a portrait in Los Angeles on Feb. 22, 2021.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Paul Thomas Anderson even defended the depictions in a November interview with the New York Times.

“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,” the “Boogie Nights” director said. “Not that it wouldn’t happen right now, by the way.”

However, MANAA countered Anderson’s stance in the statement with founding president Guy Aoki arguing he wouldn’t have used the same mocking accent if the character were black.

“Would he even have dared to include a similar stereotypical scene that insulted African Americans and encouraged the audience to laugh?” the MANAA boss retorted. “Absolutely not, because the blowback would have been swift, harsh, fierce, and his film would have been shut down.”

He added, “But because Asian Americans serve as the punching bag, Anderson (perhaps subconsciously, hopefully not consciously) figured no one would care, and judging by the acclaim his movie’s getting, he may be right.”

“Licorice Pizza” is currently the favorite to win the Best Picture award at next year’s Academy Awards, having notched Best Film and Best Director Oscars from the National Board of Review, the Wrap reported.

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