In Defense of LA LA LAND


After the magnificent failure that was the 2017 Oscar Academy’s Best Picture Awards, a lot of people seem to now talk down on the almost winner La La Land. While being one of the most successful films of 2016- both critically and box office wise, with a 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and making nearly twelve times the original budget- the controversy behind the picture is hotter than ever. Some are questioning the validity of its place in the Best Picture category (though it didn’t even win the award), and some are out to denounce the acting ability of its lead actress Emma Stone, who won the Oscar for the category.

However, the most talked topic regarding the film La La Land is about the fundamental, thematic element of the story itself- can white people really have such claims on jazz? The film stars Emma Stone, a struggling barista-actress with big dreams, and Ryan Gosling, also struggling as the jazz pianist who dreams of opening up a jazz club one day. There is a scene that sums up people’s problem with the movie, where Gosling’s character Sebastian takes Mia, played by Stone, to a local jazz club after Mia reveals that she doesn’t enjoy jazz. This infuriates Sebastian, a jazz enthusiast, and leads him to give Mia a short lesson on the history, technique, and the current state of jazz. This short scene shows Sebastian’s frustration with where jazz is now, as the genre is dying slowly. Later in the movie, he ends up opening the club, tying it to his earlier claims about the music “dying out”, and it’s presented as if Sebastian single handedly saved jazz music.

People’s problem comes with the fact that both Sebastian and Ryan Gosling are as white as someone can get, while jazz is a black art form based upon its roots. As a product of Harlem Renaissance, jazz was born in New Orleans then moved to Harlem along with the great migration of blacks from rural south into the urban north accelerating in the 1920s. Jazz was first developed as a means of self representation and of taking pride in African heritage, with musicians using tribal rhythms and beats alongside European instruments. It is true that the pioneers of the genre used their music in strong social situations like the great Duke Ellington, and many back jazz musicians were often underpaid or overlooked by white musicians playing the same notes – it’s well known that Paul Whiteman was paid a lot more than his



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