More than 80 years ago, Disney’s “Pinocchio” won two Oscars. Another film with a hefty nose is a pundit- and a bettings-site favorite for this year’s Best Picture, although its proboscis has drawn criticism for antisemitism.
Early on in the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the main character, Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) calls Jenny Slate’s character “Big Nose.” The credits initially referred to the character as “Big Nose” but were changed for the digital release. “Big Nose” remains the character’s name on imdb.com.
Slate is Jewish, and her role in the Best Picture frontrunner is akin to a Jewish American Princess. This comes through when “Big Nose” continues to talk on her Bluetooth device while picking up shirts at the cleaners and when she feigns interest in a party. (She ends up attending, but it’s about her attitude upon receiving the invite.)
Co-director and co-writer Dan Kwan told the British entertainment site Digital Spy that white people are called “big nose” in Chinese culture. “It’s nothing to do with the Jewish people,” he said.
Did Kwan not anticipate an American release for his film? One should have seen that coming even from the nosebleed seats.
“We’re not proud of that name,” his co-director and co-author Daniel Scheinert said in the same interview.
Even as one might thumb one’s nose at the antisemitic implications of the character name, other laudable elements emerge in the film, from stellar acting to wholesome messages. It is up for an Oscar for a reason.
The story follows a Chinese immigrant family in America. Evelyn plans to divorce her husband, Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), but fears revealing to her father, Gong Gong (James Hong), that her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has a girlfriend.
For those who need a refresher, Quan played Short Round in the 1984 film “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and Hsu is Mei Lin in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (2017-). Hong was Bruce in the “Seinfeld” episode “The Chinese Restaurant” (1991).
Descent into a bizarro world
But all is not destined to go smoothly with Evelyn and Waymond’s divorce. IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells the two that they are in trouble, having erred in their financial filings. The film soon descends into a bizarro world.
Artfully-choreographed fight scenes include one in which a character pushes a pipe through a computer keyboard—perhaps a nod to Luddites of yore?
The characters traverse other worlds, often after having acted in a strange manner, which raises the question of whether those unusual behaviors are pregnant with any metaphorical or other meaning, or are they merely literal plot devices. In one scene, two rocks converse via subtitles. At times characters sport hot dogs, not fingers.
Is this intended to be social criticism of Americans who have lost their feelings? Nobody knows. (Or is it nobody nose?)
One conduit between worlds is referred to as a “bagel,” and indeed it is bagel shaped, yet not composed of dough. Is this too a subliminal Jewish reference? One is at a loss to parse whether another scene, in which a character is hit with two large male sexual accouterments, is merely for shock value or a mediation on the dangers of toxic masculinity.
A major thrust of the movie appears to be that Hollywood has been marshaled to offer up a world with less homophobia, greater understanding of immigrant plight and more appreciation of Asian Americans. These elements are worthy of praise.
When that comes with a healthy side of Jewish stereotype, in the form of a Jewish character called Big Nose, the plot thickens and takes on a more ominous tone.
Scheinert appears at least somewhat repentant, but Kwan might consider a 2017 Scientific American article about the complicity of some neurologists with Nazi racism. The article includes a 1940 photograph of a man’s nose being measured to determine whether he was to be considered a Jew.
This is all to say that perhaps the Academy Awards will soon have to supplement its #OscarsSoWhite hashtag with #OscarsSoAntisemitic.ess