Look, Cut the Shit: Ryan Gosling’s “La La Land” Character is Not a White Savior

Paul Cantor

At the Academy Awards this Sunday (Feb. 26th), La La Land will go to head-to-head with a handful of other movies for a number of awards. Will it win Best Picture? Will Emma Stone win Best Actress? Will Ryan Gosling be the cutest.. err… win Best Actor? Possibly “yes” to all three of those questions.

But, whether La La Land cleans up or not — and it probably will, because the Oscars rarely get anything right — there is one theory about the film we should toss out. And it’s a theory that keeps popping up, ostensibly to discredit it. It’s this theory that Ryan Gosling’s character in La La Land is a white savior. I hate to break it you, but well, he’s just… not.

He may think he’s trying to save jazz, keep jazz pure, keep jazz as it was intended to be — but the reality is Ryan Gosling’s character in La La Land is a fucking loser. Because only losers like jazz.

That was a joke.

No, but seriously, I’d posit an alternative theory, that La La Land’s real jazz savior is not the white guy, but the black guy — John Legend. He is the one who throws Gosling a bone, asks the unemployed pianist to play in his band, gives him an opportunity to make money — money he needs for his club — where previously there was none. In fact, it’s hard to think of Gosling as the white savior when the black character is the most successful guy in the whole movie!

Now, “critics” have suggested that with his jazz-inflected pop tunes, director Damien Chazelle positions Legend as a sellout. But it’s Gosling who thinks this, nobody else. The truth is, selling out and merely selling are too very different things, and presenting those two points of view in two very different characters — one white, one black — shows the difference in how people from different walks of life think about these things. In this, Chazelle is not celebrating Gosling’s point of view, he’s actually taking a dig at it. His white character is actually quite privileged and pathetic.

When Gosling and Legend have that pivotal conversation, that conversation about keeping it real, Ryan Gosling is not made out to look good. He looks ridiculous! In fact, he looks ridiculous for the whole movie. He is not a jazz savior; rather, he’s just another bum who can’t let go of the past. John Legend tells him as much, saying:

You say you want to save jazz. How are you going to save jazz if no one’s listening? Jazz wouldn’t exist if people hadn’t gotten tired of what they were listening to before. I mean, do you really think a bunch of 90-year-olds in a basement is the future of the form?

In the end, Legend’s character is a star. And Gosling… well, Gosling gets exactly that — a basement. Sure, it is filled with people listening to jazz, but it is what it is. It’s a basement.

So, John is a star, Emma Stone is a star, and Ryan Gosling — Ryan Gosling operates a little shit piano bar in a neighborhood he’ll probably be priced out of in a year, right after the Whole Foods opens up.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for La La Land II: The Rent’s Too Damn High, about John Legend and Emma Stone lending Ryan Gosling money to pay his rent, and him needing to “sell out” in order to pay them back.

So much for your white savior theory.

Paul Cantor

Written by

Writer, Editor and Music Producer. Creative work for: Apple, Instagram, VICE, Warner Brothers, Verizon, Universal, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Hennessy, others.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade