The Media Action Network for Asian Americans condemned the film for scenes involving a white restaurant owner using a mocking Asian accent.

Media Action Network for Asian Americans, a nonprofit media watchdog organization for Asian Americans in the media, has called for an awards season boycott of Paul Thomas Anderson's romance drama, Licorice Pizza.

MANAA condemned the film for scenes involving a white restauranteur (John Michael Higgins) using a mock Asian accent while addressing his Japanese wife (Yumi Mizui). MANAA maintained the film amplifies the message that "racism in movies is OK" at the expense of Asian characters in a release issued to Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles-based Japanese-American newspaper. EW received the same statement when we reached out to the watchdog group.

"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, and is asking other film critic associations to pass over it this awards season," the statement read.

Alana Haim in 'Licorice Pizza'
| Credit: MGM

"To shower it with nominations and awards would normalize more egregious mocking of Asians in this country," the statement continued, "sending the message that it's OK to make fun of them, even during a time when Asian Americans are afraid to go out on the streets because of the unprecedented levels of violence from fellow Americans blaming them for COVID-19."

Set in California's San Fernando Valley in the early 1970s, Licorice Pizza chronicles young love through the lens of Alana Kane (Alana Haim, one-third of sister musical trio Haim) and Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman). The coming-of-age dramedy has garnered award buzz since its Nov. 26 release, with Haim receiving her first Golden Globe nom for her role.

MANAA said the "cringeworthy" scenes "do not advance the plot in any way," adding that they are "included simply for cheap laughs, reinforcing the notion that Asian Americans are 'less than' and perpetual foreigners."

While speaking to The New York Times last month, Anderson defended the scenes after some critics and moviegoers panned the accent.

"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."

Guy Aoki, MANAA's founding president, issued the following response to Rafu and confirmed by EW: "Anderson talks about Licorice Pizza being a period piece and includes racism toward Asian Americans from that time. He certainly would have known about the racism that African Americans faced too. Would he even have dared to include a similar stereotypical scene that insulted African Americans and encouraged the audience to laugh? Absolutely not, because the blowback would have been swift, harsh, fierce, and his film would have been shut down." 

A MANAA spokesperson also said in a statement issued to EW, "According to public sources, Paul Thomas Anderson is in a long-term relationship with actress and comedian Maya Rudolph and lives in the San Fernando Valley with their children. So is Paul saying that Maya Rudolph's mother is Japanese?  Or is he referring to someone else?"

Rudolph's stepmother, Kimiko Kasai, is Japanese.

This article has been updated to clarify critical and moviegoer reception to the mock Asian accent and Kasai's ethnicity.

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