‘Licorice Pizza’: Paul Thomas Anderson Opens Up About Racist Asian Gag – ‘You Have to Be Honest to That Time’

Licorice Pizza is one of the season’s most-talked-about movies. Many critics are calling Paul Thomas Anderson‘s ninth film one of his very best. However, it’s also in the news for some of the wrong reasons, including the age difference between the two main romantic partners and a racist Asian gag. Anderson recently opened up about the Asian joke that insulted many audiences.

‘Licorice Pizza’ has an offensive Asian gag

Paul Thomas Anderson image for article about 'Licorice Pizza' Asian gag with a white collared shirt in front of a step and repeat
Paul Thomas Anderson | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Licorice Pizza takes place in 1973 San Fernando Valley, California. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a teenager who meets a woman in her 20s named Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and quickly falls for her. They decide to open a waterbed business together. This venture sets them on a path with other figures across town, including familiar and new faces.

John Michael Higgins plays a restaurateur who owns a Japanese restaurant. He often ignores his Japanese wife and then speaks to her with a very insulting accent. Press screenings included some awkward chuckles and audible gasps at the shocking gag that’s repeated once more later in the movie.

Paul Thomas Anderson opened up about the offensive scenes

The New York Times talked with Anderson about Licorice Pizza. The filmmaker explained how the movie’s romance doesn’t have a single provocative bone in its body, even despite Alana and Gary’s age difference. However, the interviewer pointed out that the offensive Licorice Pizza Asian gag is a rather provocative element.

“Well, that’s different,” Anderson said. “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. Not that it wouldn’t happen right now, by the way.”

Anderson explained his real-life experiences witnessing Asian racism within his own family. He doesn’t agree with the offensive gag necessarily, but he does see it necessary to include the ugly portions of his memory as it relates to race and class.

“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,” Anderson said. “I don’t think they even know they’re doing it.”

‘Licorice Pizza’ is generating conversation on social media

Critics posted on social media about the Licorice Pizza Asian gag. Some Twitter users harassed Asian journalists for posting about it. However, the overall reviews for Licorice Pizza are very positive. They praise Haim, Hoffman, and Cooper’s performances, Anderson’s directorial efforts, and the overall nostalgic quality of the hangout movie.

Licorice Pizza is the type of movie that could get some awards attention. However, Anderson fans will continue to love the film, regardless of its awards chances. It has a very high replay value that’s sure to hold up on repeat viewings. Many fans are willing to move past the racist Asian gag, but others aren’t.

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