White Dreams Do Come True: Exploring 3 Ways La La Land Proves to be Unexceptional
As fingers hit the keyboard, I am listening to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out loud- leaning on his whiteness to briefly explore this film.
La La Land is anything but exceptional.
Don’t get me wrong; I like unexceptional things- film and television included (and some people). I can’t help netflexing The Da Vinci Code or Heavy Weights after a long stressful day. Or even laughing at some messed up stuff, as I binge watch old episodes of America’s Next Top Model, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Married to Medicine (Atlanta). Point is, I know the extent of shitty I consume, and none of it is being lauded as the best anything…
There is absolutely nothing exceptional about La La Land- I cannot stress this enough. This film centers a white (assumed) cisgender heterosexual couple that dance poorly and sing in an uninspired fashion, however, they have the privilege to dream and imagine in copious amounts. Throw in a few tears, a few laughs, a few overly dramatic hetero kisses, and a semi-good ending for both characters, and you have La La Land. Well, you also have a significantly less masterful Moulin Rouge and Singing in the Rain.
Simply, it does not deserve the hype that it’s receiving. Below are three reasons La La Land is basic A(s)F(uc*).
(1) Lacked A Compelling Conflict
The conflict of the film is wildly forgettable, and serves as an unpolished ode to the tradition of oppressive imagery- Alternative fact = classic Hollywood.
Gosling and Stone are unsure they can have it all. Stone wants to be a successful actor and Gosling wants to be a successful jazz club owner. Which is to say, Stone wants to be a successful white actor with all the benefits that comes with whiteness, and Gosling wants to be a successful white business owner who slums in the depths of Blackness.
Executed in a superficial manner on the screen, Stone and Gosling are forced to choose between love and career- however, career is defined as the epitome of their dream jobs. Apparently, Gosling’s character can have an apartment in Los Angeles and follow his dreams, yet, have no real job. Stone’s character can quit her barista job to concentrate on what I know is a shitty one-woman play.
The entire plot reeks, and I couldn’t careless about the shallow conflict offered- conflict, that doesn’t even become somewhat interesting until the last 20 minutes of the film.
(2) Black People Were Used As Props
Naturally, Black people are subjected to the background, and blurred out. However, some warped portrayal of Blackness is displayed on the screen, as jazz is explored. It is a predictable saturated version of jazz- a version that has been preyed on by whiteness and stripped of authenticity, flavor, and soul.
Throughout this film, there is not one Black character that has any meaningful dialogue, John Legend’s character included. Legend, basically, shows up as a modern day magical negro- fight me on this if you want to. Take a second to consider, what exactly is the purpose of Legend’s character? What do we know about Legend’s life? How does Legend help Gosling reach his white dreams?
The La La Land team thought they were slick. They attempted to leverage Legend’s persona as a Black jazz singer to validate their commentary on jazz. However, the gag is, Legend is not a jazz singer, he creates soul and sometimes pop music. This strategic addition of Legend did nothing for folks that live and breathe jazz, or even the ones who have an affinity for it. Damien Chazelle, you can’t fool Black folk. Not on today, or tomorrow. What you served us in this film is not called jazz, it’s called appropriation.
(3) Ryan Gosling And Emma Stone Exemplified White Mediocrity
They can’t sing.
They can’t dance.
And the acting was questionable.
And this is coming from someone who typically likes Emma and Ryan.
A Black person would have to be the best damn singer, the most brilliant dancer, and have a superb acting technique (taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg themselves) to get an audition for either of these roles; roles that would surely go to less talented white people in the end.
The direction was average, and the score was unsurprisingly whimsical (whimsical- code for white people who see themselves as weird and charming, but in reality are completely typical). The dialogue was pedestrian, and the songs were unimaginative.
There was nothing jazzy about this production.
All of this to say, I am unsure on how this film has won so many awards, and continue to receive critical praise. And even as I type the previous sentence, I know the answer. I know the truth. And I know it to the core.
White mediocrity will always be held as the standard of perfection, even as we have films like Hidden Figures, Lion, Fences, and Moonlight (click on Fences and Moonlight for my thoughts on the films) in 2016.
White people get to play in film.
They get to dream.
They get to risk.
They get to love.
They get to be evil, and sinister.
They get to be flawed, and heroic.
They get to have sex.
They get to flirt.
They get to be a victim, a survivor, and a savior.
They get to be in control.
They get to have power.
They get to be seen as beautiful.
They get to be seen.
They get to make mistakes.
They get to be understood as poor, wealthy, middle class, broken, whole, unfulfilled, content, happy, and falling apart.
For goodness sake, white people get to make films with all of their other white friends, and then receive praise through reviews and awards- where they will indubitably stress the importance of diversity in their acceptance speeches.
White mediocrity wins every time, which means La La Land should prepare to take home the hardware come Sunday, February 26, 2017- Oscar night. #OscarsSoWhite <sincerely, hoping that I’m wrong>
This is the work of Cody Charles; claiming my work does not make me selfish or ego-driven, instead radical and in solidarity with the folk who came before me and have been betrayed by history books and storytellers. Historically, their words have been stolen and reworked without consent. This is the work of Cody Charles. Please discuss, share, and cite properly.
the aspiring urban blogger @PhaedraParks speaks of- Cody Charles is the author of The Night The Moonlight Caught My Eye: Not a Review but a Testimony on the Film Moonlight, Radical Friendship Contract: 10 Expectations for Loving People Fully, 10 Common Things Well-Intentioned Allies Do That Are Actually Counterproductive, A Letter to Black Greeks Who Happen to be Black and Queer, Higher Ed Hates Me, and What Growing Up Black And Poor Taught Me About Resiliency. Join him for more conversation on Twitter (@_codykeith_) and Facebook (Follow Cody Charles). Please visit his blog, Reclaiming Anger, to learn more about him.