Why I will not be going to see La La Land – Gray Holland

It’s a film review, sort of, therefore spoiler alert.

I’m a massive film fan.
I usually try to watch the films that get big buzz at the awards.
I, like most of the human population with good vision, quite like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
I love the Golden Age of Hollywood style, and I think jazz music is pretty good.

So why am I not going to see La La Land?

Put very simply, the underlying racism of Hollywood. However, just to say this and not follow it up with a well argued point, would be exceptionally shallow and anyone who felt like it would be able to poke a hole through my argument immediately.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)
La La Land (2016)
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

So, to elaborate I’m not going to see La La Land, because it is a fundamentally problematic film. A white man, Seb (Ryan Gosling), is or rather wants to be a jazz musician, and a white woman, Mia (Emma Stone) who isn’t quite an actor. They live in a hazy-dazy version of LA where nothing is quite what it seems (according to the reviews I have read), nor is there a set time period, as the film has a mishmash of 50’s dance numbers contrasted with mobile phones which is supposedly unsettling, the colours are all bright, the skyline is apparently pink and the dances and songs are reportedly incredible.

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So it sounds brilliant, if maybe a bit corny as it is a musical and a drama rolled into 1 Golden Globe winning machine. What’s the problem you may be thinking?

Well, despite it’s timelessness, it’s being dragged back by the racial politics that it wrapped itself up when it made the unusual decision to make a musical about saving/preserving jazz, a genre of music pioneered by African Americans, starring white American characters. According to various reviews, the audience is subjected to Gosling repeatedly explaining how he will save jazz, while behind him African Americans play the music that they created. Twitter user Rostam Batmanglij puts it best when he said:

black people invented jazz but now we need a white man to come save/preserve it? sorry this narrative doesn’t work for me in 2016
— Rostam Batmanglij (@matsoR) December 21, 2016

To put it very bluntly, La La Land is an award winning cultural appropriation machine. Apparently it’s fun, Emma Stone is supposed to be brilliant and the music and sets are reported to be mind blowing. However, I cannot get past the problematic nature of having a film this blatantly whitewashed, in 2017. It will and has won a lot of awards, but that doesn’t give it a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for its problems, because Hollywood does not have a good reputation for cultural sensitivity (think Laurence Olivier’s Othello, complete for some reason with ‘blackface’ makeup or Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunoshi, complete with ‘yellowface’ make up and fake mouth piece?!) and Hollywood also loves a movie about itself. La La Land has given Hollywood exactly what it wants, “bankable stars” aka white stars (another topic which deserves its own passive aggressive rant, though I may save that one for the lucky few who catch me after watching the next film on my list, whatever that may be), in a film about Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Belated disclaimer: I have not seen and will not be seeing the film.

2 thoughts on “Why I will not be going to see La La Land – Gray Holland

  • January 20, 2017 at 6:50 pm
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    Now not to spoil the film for you, but I do not believe this was well researched, as there are black characters, not to mention John legend, which the film goes into depth about the history of jazz.

    But it’s a love story, based around jazz, but a love story.

    Jazz can be played by white and black peoples, and why are you pointing out he’s white? He’s an actor, it doesn’t matter wether you’re white or black, you’re just an actor playing a part.

    It’s 2017, we shouldn’t be defining people what they can and can’t do purely on their skin colour, to me this is insane to even comprehend. Eminem is a rapper, he didn’t let people stop him doing what he loved, and now he’s a successful artist with millions of albums sold.

  • January 20, 2017 at 10:29 pm
    Permalink

    (SPOILER ALERT (OBVIOUSLY (AND ‘REPETITION-OF-THE-WORD-‘JAZZ’’ ALERT)))

    Seeing as you have not seen the film, I shall attempt to correct the inaccuracies of your article. The assertion that it is “whitewashed” is completely fallacious. The opening scene is the most ethnically diverse sequence I have ever seen (which, if you had seen it, you would attest to). Just because Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are white, which is true I grant you, it does not mean that the film is “whitewashed”: John Legend is in it and plays a significant role, and most of the jazz musicians, whom Sebastian reveres, are black.

    Another error with your argument is the branding of Sebastian’s desire to save jazz as racist. It is not that Sebastian has taken it upon himself to save jazz alone, only that he does not want it to die “on [his] watch”. The only other allusion to Sebastian’s wish to save jazz is made by Keith (John Legend), who suggests Sebastian is unable to save jazz, as he is “such a traditionalist”. Thus, the suggestion that Sebastian “repeatedly [explains] how he will save jazz” is fundamentally flawed. In Sebastian’s final scene, he appears in his own jazz club – ‘Seb’s’ – in which is playing traditional jazz, and on the walls are pictures of traditional jazz musicians, indicating that Sebastian has not revolutionised or saved jazz, only that he has fulfilled his dream.

    Sebastian really does not want Jazz to die; Sebastian wants jazz to survive – not racist, surely the opposite: wanting to save a creation that black people started, developed and continue. Sebastian wants to start his own jazz club – again, not racist. Sebastian does, in the end, set up his own Jazz club – still not racist. There is no indication in the film whether or not Sebastian actually saves Jazz, he merely opens his own club – it is his dream – and seeing as the film is about dreams and romance, this makes total sense. So I ask you: what exactly is racist about this film? I grant you, if Sebastian actually did swoop down and save jazz, and that was what the film was about, then it would be more understandable for one to interpret it as racist; however, he does not. If this happened in real life (a white man saving Jazz) would we call him a racist? There are proportionally more white people in America than black people (63% white, and 13.3% African-American), this makes it more likely that it would be a white person, unless – of course – we are racist ourselves and say that a black person’s innate ability to play jazz is better than a white person’s.

    One would deem the accusation of ‘La La Land’ as being “corny” – without full awareness of the film’s culmination – as naïve. If you were aware of the ending, you would fully realise the film’s innovative storyline and originality, which cannot be totally appreciated simply by watching the rather deceptive trailer (that is not to say the trailer is ill-conceived, quite the opposite).

    The assertion that the film is racist originates from reviewers who have nothing new to say about the film – the vast majority of reviews having proclaimed it as brilliant (which it is) – so to be different, to stand out and to avoid banality, they try to pick it apart and find faults that do not exist. To make such a public argument against a film that you have not even seen is erroneous.

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