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Opinion: La La Land and whitewashing in Hollywood

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The film La La Land was nominated for Best Picture and praised for his acting abilities, a tribute to the golden age of cinema. The film showed two artists trying to navigate their dreams and true love, but forced to choose between the two. While the film has excellent cinematography, set design, and acting, it put me off for several reasons.

First, he idolizes a time in Hollywood when diversity was a token. While I’m sure the filmmakers weren’t planning on this, that doesn’t excuse the choice of characters.

Second, the male lead role is a white jazz musician who misses the point as he white plains Jazz. In an article by Rebecca Farley for Refinery29, she writes, [They] pointed out that the movie seems to reduce jazz to a pop culture gem, a fun fact for the characters. There is a tribute to the golden age of cinema, but not to the culture, history or pioneers of jazz.

Portrait of Tommy Potter, Charlie Parker, Max Roach (almost hidden by Parker), Miles Davis and Duke Jordan (left to right), Three Deuces, New York, NY William P. Gottlieb, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jazz music originated in the late 1800s in New Orleans, Louisiana, with African-American musicians like Buddy Bolden who founded the first jazz group in 1895. The jazz that people know today may have -being really been invented around 1917 when Nick larocca and his band created classics like Livery Stable Blues. Louis armstrong was an influential jazz trumpeter and composer who began his career in the late 1910s, taking off to write several novels about his life and music.

Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday are all recognizable names in the music industry. Their works have accumulated to influence the creation and inspiration of Rock n roll in the late 1960s. Other famous artists include Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Monk Thelonious, Charlie parker and Herbie Hancock.

As jazz, and by extension black media, gained popularity, black actors and performers were often prevented from telling their own stories. In addition to this, black characters were often portrayed by white actors wearing black face. In the 1927 film, The jazz singer, the white protagonist aims to be a jazz musician but claims to be a black person in that particular genre of music. This is just one example of the lack of diversity in the early days of cinema seeing people of color as a tool.

Portrait of Muriel Rahn in the title role of the original Broadway production of Carmen Jones (1944) Carl Van Vechten, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Since the 1910s, films featuring predominantly black actors have been produced for black audiences, but fewer than 100 of them movies have survived since the 1950s. Racing Movies, as the genre has been dubbed, are described by Allyson Nadia Field for The Criterion collection like films which,… instead of using their black subjects as props or ridiculous objects, these films put their life in the foreground. Movies such as Moon over Harlem and Carmen Jones, were overshadowed by white Hollywood supremacy, and were sadly drowned in racist and sexist clichés, and stereotyped by white audiences.

Today, the Black Lives Matter movement has had a huge impact on politics, social regulation, education, security, and the media, including Hollywood. It’s not perfect, but movies and TV shows like Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, coco, Remember the titans, Moana, 42 and Get out, provided more representation.

All of these films are not about race, but rather represent and normalize non-white characters and their experiences. It also helps provide white audiences with insight into genres and themes that they are not normally encouraged to explore in order to open their minds and hearts to difference.

Over the years, the development of representation improved. More and more movies are not just depicting diverse characters, but stories about race, culture, and history in today’s modern world. La La Land didn’t necessarily compromise their history by choosing white actors to play both lead roles, but the emphasis on just one aspect of black culture without full homage is a bit symbolic.

La La Land tried to create a nostalgic atmosphere, but many confuse nostalgia with simplicity. Things have never been easy, especially for minorities in music, movies and all walks of life. Racing films have helped develop representational civil rights, impacting Hollywood and other forms of media that touch us all every day.

Films like La La Land have yet to understand the purpose of black cinema and its importance to all art forms. We must never forget our history, good and bad, black and white, obscure and mainstream, in film and in real life, because everything plays a role in what we choose to create today.

Megan Cowdell is a freshman opinion columnist studying for a BA in Communication. She enjoys music, reading and wants to write books for a living.

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