La La Land

La La Land

"you cannot be proud of being white & not be a racist. it's a tautology. you can be proud of your irish heritage. you can be proud of your german heritage. you can be proud of your lutheran heritage or your appalachian roots or your large italian family's sunday gravy tradition. you cannot be proud of your *white* heritage b/c there is no such thing. whiteness only exists as a power relationship. a system of domination is not a culture to take pride in unless you are an asshole." - k.m.

k. very succinctly covers it, though others have said this before in other ways. This one just happens to be the one I remember most clearly at the moment (because I saw it recently). One of the ways in which capitalism maintains its dominance is by defining "white" as the standard by which other things are judged. The "no accent" voice most people think of is a white Midwestern American accent. The "lowest common denominator" that most marketers, advertisers, and Hollywood executives warp their output toward is based on standards developed with white people in mind. White supremacy is about dominance; it subsumes other races and cultures into it. Literally everyone within a white supremacist society interacts with and experiences this overrding defintion. Only some are able to benefit from it; many (most?) suffer from its exclusion of, exploitation of, oppression of, repression of their existence.

As I am given to understand, jazz was, more or less (because of bad record keeping at the time, the birth certificate of jazz is unclear on the precise location--white people demanding the full length version think it will reveal it was born in Omaha, but we all know better) born in a New Orleans flophouse, as known Caucasian Ryan Gosling says (thank you, nevin), failing to ever actually really explain it well. He mentions that the people didn't even speak the same language. He doesn't mention they weren't white. He doesn't mention what brought many of them there is that their ancestors were stolen from their homes and dragged across an ocean to be enslaved. He doesn't mention that jazz was appropriated by white record executives and club owners and other opportunists; when confronted with the stereotypical blandness of Kenny G, he refers to passion and emotion and so on, but he doesn't talk about appropriation and history and how race played such a huge part in it all.

Some people will dismiss something as "too white." While that phrase has a nebulous meaning, if anything qualifies, it might be this film. This is not a cultural designation; this is a note about how this film has no awareness of its cultural appropriation. This is a note about how this film sidelines every person of color. This is a note about how this film presents two main characters who replace personality with cuteness, whose entire arcs are predictable, starving artist tropes drawn from the aforementioned lowest common denominator, bland plots on bland themes, and yet they are lauded and loved and celebrated and awarded for it. This is a note about how this film steals mythologies from black musicians and posits a white guy as some sort of passionate savior of jazz (in his own small way) while having judgment for a black man trying to make a living off a (supposedly) more accessible style.

Celebrate this film for drawing from the history of musicals. You can feel Rogers and Astaire's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" in spirit oozing out of "A Lovely Night," even if the dancing lacks the spectacle of the former. You can sense Singin' in the Rain in the big finale dream sequence. You cannot miss Jacques Demy even if you closed your eyes and ears and only sniffed the film from across the world. Yes, those musicals have their own problematic histories to contend with, but if we impose some limits on how far back we go, at least there's a line between these things and La La Land that doesn't entirely reek of treating the art of oppressed people as a smorgasbord. Celebrate, too, the fact that while this film isn't a model of gender equality (really if someone called me a baby for crying, I'd be so done), it still features a man ceding his romantic interests to a woman's career. It could have been handled better, but it still managed to surprise me. Celebrate that this film has a scene where two people float in the air and dance. Celebrate some of those shots, especially those beautiful views of the city.

But do so with acknowledgments of its flaws. This film is the middle-of-the-road sort of crowdpleaser people tell you it is because it is a product of cultural appropriation.

Sally Jane liked these reviews