La La Land
“While Chazelle hit a home run with his previous jazz-centric film,Whiplash, he overreaches here in casting a white man who insinuates that young Black musicians don’t understand the genre their forefathers created.”
Title: La La Land (2016)
Director: Damien Chazelle 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writer: Damien Chazelle 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Angie 👩🏻🇺🇸🌈 and Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Enjoyable and well-executed, but not ground-breaking enough to deserve the hype and adulation heaped upon it by Hollywood. In fact, parts of the movie were straight-up boring.
The cast is limited so Mia (played by Emma Stone) gets a fair share of screen time. Docking points, however, for lack of complexity in the female characters and normative gender roles. Nearly all women depicted want to be actresses and are clad in purposefully nostalgic, 1950’s hourglass dresses, while the men wear 3-piece suits and fedoras. Towards the end, nuclear family lives are depicted as the end goal—marriage, children, date nights, etc.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 7% of creative decision-makers were POC
There’s a reason why this film is getting singled out for its lack of diversity. While it does tick some boxes in Black representation, ultimately its mishandling of Black culture and erasure of Hispanics (who make up a whopping 49% of the population in Los Angeles*) is too problematic to ignore.
We won’t go in-depth, as Amanda Joy has already tackled it brilliantly in her piece ‘The Uncomfortable Subject of Race in La La Land’, but in short: Chazelle explores the argument that modern-day musicians have forsaken jazz, and only a fanatic can keep its purity alive. That, in and of itself, is inoffensive. However, the optics are damning as a white man preaches to Black artists about how to interpret a musical genre whose very roots stem from the Black experience.
The audacity of this dynamic, plus the complete erasure of Hispanics from a film set in Los Angeles where 5 Hispanics reside for every 3 white residents,* nets La La Land a 1.5/5 in this category.
At Mediaversity, we don’t penalize films for lack of LGBTQ representation due to their small percentage of the American populace; that being said, we felt the omission of this minority group was noticeable for a musical based in Hollywood. This isn’t speculation; Los Angeles had the 7th highest rate of same-sex marriage between males in the United States in 2014,** indicating an outsized share of LGBTQ individuals as compared to the rest of the country. Yet we see none of them in La La Land.
Mediaversity Grade: C- 3.00/5
Conformist on Gender, cringe-worthy on Race, and absent on LGBTQ representation, this film is nothing to write home about but for its overblown adulation within Hollywood circles. While Chazelle hit a home run with his previous jazz-centric film, Whiplash, he overreaches here in casting a white man who insinuates that young Black musicians don’t understand the genre their forefathers created.
This poor handling of race and optics is a glaring distraction throughout the film, as casting directors Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood seriously dropped the ball on what would otherwise have been a much stronger film—or at least, a less controversial one.
Beyond its music and costume, La La Land is retro in more ways than one: like films of yore, people of color are leveraged as visual or narrative props. This all feels particularly tone-deaf against the stricken backdrop of today’s presidential campaigns in America. An unintended consequence, to be sure, but a real one nonetheless.
* U.S. Census Bureau, https://censusreporter.org/profiles/16000US0644000-los-angeles-ca/
** New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/upshot/the-most-detailed-map-of-gay-marriage-in-america.html