The recently released film Licorice Pizza is facing backlash for scenes where a white restaurant owner imitates a Japanese accent while speaking to his Japanese wife, NBC News reports.
Licorice Pizza is a coming-of-age film set in the 1970s. It is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Alana Haim (of the Haim band) and Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In the film, John Michael Higgins plays a white restaurant owner with a Japanese wife. Higgins’ character speaks to his wife with a fake Japanese accent. He later marries a new Japanese wife and continues to imitate a Japanese accent while talking to her.
Many found the scenes to be offensive and uncomfortable to watch. David Chen, a media personality who watched an early screening of the film said that watching the scenes while a mostly white audience laughs “f**king sucks.”
Dana Stevens, a film critic for Slate, also criticized the “running gag.”
“Not every attempt to ground ‘Licorice Pizza’ in a de-nostalgized past bears fruit, Stevens wrote. “A running gag about a white restaurant owner with a series of interchangeable Japanese wives seems meant as a joke about the character’s racism, but the joke lands gracelessly.”
Paul Thomas Anderson recently discussed the scene with the New York Times. He defended the scene by arguing that Higgins’ character likely would have behaved that way in the 1970s.
“I think it would be a mistake to tell a period film through the eyes of 2021,” Anderson said. “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. I don’t think they even know they’re doing it.”
While the scenes may be “historically accurate,” Asian Americans are concerned that they will legitimize racist behavior.
“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,” Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist, told NBC News.
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