Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in "Licorice Pizza."

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in "Licorice Pizza." Credit: MGM/Paul Thomas Anderson

An Asian American advocacy group is calling for an awards boycott of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, "Licorice Pizza," for what it calls "racist portrayals of Asians in his film."

"To shower it with nominations and awards would normalize more egregious mocking of Asians in this country," according to a statement from Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which added that the film arrives "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."

Written and directed by Anderson, "Licorice Pizza" is a coming-of-age romance set in Southern California in 1973. It is being criticized for two scenes involving a white restaurateur named Jerry Frick (John Michael Higgins), whose first and second wives are Asian. In each scene, the character speaks to his current wife in stilted English with an exaggerated Asian accent, according to MANAA.

Those scenes had caused something of a stir even before the group called for its boycott. Just before the film’s release in November, The New York Times published an interview with Anderson in which reporter Kyle Buchanan raised the issue. Buchanan described the scenes as "so offensive that my audience actually gasped."

"I think it would be a mistake to tell a period film through the eyes of 2021," Anderson responded, according to the article. "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."

"Licorice Pizza" has already earned its share of plaudits. The National Board of Review named it the year’s Best Film and Anderson as Best Director; it also gave its Breakthrough Performance award to the two leads, singer Alana Haim and actor Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman). "Licorice Pizza" has earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy.

With the Oscars coming in March, MANAA "strongly urges voting members of the Academy and other film critic associations not to reward Anderson for the racist portrayals of Asians in his film."

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