I’m an Arab actor who’s been asked to audition for the role of the terrorist for more than 30 times. If La La Land cleans up at the Oscars, I’m done is the headline of an article by The Independent. Stephen Colbert recaps La La Land as “two crazy kids who fall in love while accidentally hailing Hitler”. And Honest Trailers gave La La Land the new title “Hollywood handjob”.
Ever since La La Land swept the Golden Globes and won all of its nominations and has additionally been nominated 14 times for an Oscar, the general consensus on Twitter towards La La Land is negative. Having seen La La Land, I think I can answer some of the questions and correct accusations that are thrown around.
Why does La La Land have a good shot at winning?
There are several reasons. First, Hollywood loves movies about and related to Hollywood — look at past winners The Artist (2011), Argo (2012) and Birdman (2014). Second, the Oscars voting system favors movies that may not be the #1 choice for every voter but has the broadest support. And third, it won in almost every precursor. A precursor is awarded such as the Golden Globes and BAFTA awards, both of which La La Land won. Even though it didn’t win the SAG Awards — another precursor which went to fellow Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures — critics argue that it will not dampen La La Land’s win.
But La La Land is a fascist movie, and also features a white-savior narrative!
La La Land isn’t fascist. For that, it would actually need to be offensive in the first place, and La La Land is not. It’s a movie about accomplishing dreams and what you’d do to reach them, an escapist movie in every sense of the word — including one long dream section where even the characters think of an escapist ending.
The question about the white-savior narrative is trickier to answer, though. Lead man Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) mentions things about jazz dying and implies about wanting to “save” it. For that, he enters a jazz band, led by Keith (John Legend), a black guy who, according to Sebastian’s girlfriend Mia (Emma Stone) cannot fulfill Sebastian’s dream. Yes, this is questionable, and critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has pointed this out very well:
“It’s not that a black man can’t be the sellout or the drug dealer, it’s just that they shouldn’t be if they’re the only prominent black character in the story. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, that sends a bigoted message rippling through our society.”
Although this is correct, I argue the movie does give Sebastian whiplash for his bad line of thinking — he cannot save a genre if he himself is stuck in the past, as Keith points out to him. Saving jazz isn’t the future Sebastian had imagined, and once he realizes what he truly wants (to play the jazz he likes best without a bigger picture in mind), he settles with his jazz club that is also fairly popular. Still, this does not save the bad optics, and I will not argue against that. However, it is not the grand narrative of the movie, as movie critic David Ehrlich puts it eloquently:
With “La La Land,” Chazelle has made the rare movie that isn’t afraid to shine a light into the infinite void between the strength of our emotions and the uncertainty of our choices. Watching the film’s wistful final moments, which make certain that Mia and Seb get everything they’ve ever wanted except each other, “La La Land” transports us to a uniquely cinematic place where time has a heartbeat and the people shine like stars, beaming down on us long after they’re gone. It knows that just because we’re not with someone doesn’t mean that they’re not with us. It knows that the only dreams we get to keep are the ones that don’t come true.
La La Land is just a boring white straight romance.
Yep. It does have a narrative about dreams, however, that it sticks with until the very end. It is also very beautifully shot, has an incredible score and a feel-good vibe that, again, will resonate very well with the Academy besides the other reasons listed above.
Is La La Land really going to win all of its nominations?
Probably not (it won’t win the Best Actor category that is dominated by Casey Affleck vs Denzel Washington), but there’s still a chance it could go for a record number. I’ve seen the speculated amount of wins go from 9 to 12, including a sweep of sorts for technical categories. Expect me rioting if it wins for Best Original Screenplay, though, not when a truly original movie like The Lobster is in the same category.
Moonlight is the best movie, though! It should win all the awards!
Yes, it is and yes, it should. If it eases your mind, it’s the other movie that has the best shot at beating La La Land for Best Picture. Theoretically, anyway. We’ll have to see it for ourselves tonight, but I wouldn’t get your hopes too far up due to reasons explained above.
Does that mean it’s not going to win anything at all?
The critics’ consensus is that Barry Jenkins will for sure win Best Adapted Screenplay and Mahershala Ali for his excellent work as Juan. So yes, the Academy will recognize Moonlight’s excellence in one way or another. And perhaps this is for the better — instead of recognizing the white producers who made the financing of Moonlight possible (as that would happen in case it won Best Picture), it instead recognizes the black director/writer and one of the best performances of this year.
What about the other Best Picture nominees? Do they not stand a chance to win?
Not in the Best Picture category besides the two mentioned earlier, but that doesn’t mean the Academy has all but forgotten about the other movies. Fences’ lead actress Viola Davis, so the critics, will win Best Supporting Actress, and her co-lead Denzel Washington has a good shot at winning Best Leading Actor. Sci-fi movie Arrival may win at of the technical categories, and war drama Hacksaw Ridge is speculated as the winner of Sound Editing.
Why is Mel Gibson nominated?
I have seriously no clue.
What about Casey Affleck’s sexual harrassment claims?
He settled these in court as early as 2010. News came back to light once he was in broader spotlight for Manchester by the Sea this year, though.
Does this mean #OscarsSoWhite is still not over?
Of course not! The Academy loves to pat themselves on the back for a fake idea of representation and diversity, and they’re certainly going to do it tonight as well. However, as the creator April Reign has said as well, just because the Academy recognizes black people doesn’t mean Oscars stopped being white altogether. Asian Americans, Latin-Americans, Middle Easterners, LGBTQ members and women are still underrepresented. It’s going to take the Academy a long, long time before they stop favoring white people.
Last question: Will Andrew Garfield kiss another man during the Oscars?
Author: Elif Erdem
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.