Posted on March 28, 2022

‘Licorice Pizza’ Director’s Justification of Anti-Asian Scenes Misses Mark, Critics Say

Kimmy Yam, NBC News, March 23, 2022

Alongside buzz during this year’s awards season, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Licorice Pizza” continues to draw accusations of anti-Asian racism. And critics and advocates say his explanations for the controversial scenes in questions have missed the mark.

Anderson, whose film is up for best picture, best original screenplay and best director Oscars, has remained relatively silent on the subject, having briefly spoke to Indiewire earlier this year about the uproar. Asian Americans have taken issue with the scenes in which white Japanese restaurant owner Jerry Frick, played by John Michael Higgins, launches into a slow, mock Asian accent, while speaking to his love interests, two separate Japanese women. The director, who claimed the joke was on Frick, the “idiot saying stupid sh–t,” said he was “lost” in understanding the backlash.

“I’m certainly capable of missing the mark,” Anderson told the outlet. “But on the other hand, I guess I’m not sure how to separate what my intentions were from how they landed.”


But viewers and commentators are speaking out, saying that well-meaning intent is insufficient when it comes to representing marginalized communities in a responsible way. Works like “Licorice Pizza,” they say, cannot be examined independently from a history of racist depictions of Asian Americans, and the impact these images have had on the community across decades.


“Great art has never been apolitical. Art has always actually existed in a political realm,” said Jennifer Ho, a professor of Asian American studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

She added: “Those images exist within a milieu of anti-Asian racism.”

Historians and critics say that even if Anderson’s words are taken at face value, the scenes still align with a larger Hollywood tradition of exoticizing, fetishizing and reducing Asian women to objects — a narrative spun through the lens of a white male experience, that the film never challenged. In the movie, Frick, who said he lived in Japan for 15 years, switches to heavily accented English when communicating with his wife, Mioko, played by Yumi Mizui, who only speaks Japanese. In another scene, main character Gary Valentine, portrayed by Cooper Hoffman, mistakes Frick’s “new” Japanese wife, Kimiko, for Mioko. And when Kimiko, played by Megumi Anjo, speaks in Japanese, Frick admits to having no grasp of the language.

Though Anderson has previously claimed that the scenes are based on real-life behavior he’s witnessed before, experts say it’s perhaps most significant that neither of the women are given English subtitles when responding to Frick’s offensive dialogue. The creative decision essentially rendered the only Asians in the film as “voiceless,” interchangeable “props” to a primarily English-speaking audience, Miya Sommers, a member of the Nikkei Resisters, a Bay Area-based coalition of Japanese American activists, said. {snip}