‘La La Land’ whitewashes jazz, repeats an exhausted storyline

Damian Chazelle’s musical “La La Land” has been nominated for a stunning 14 Oscars, tying the record with “All About Eve” and “Titanic.” The film has been incredibly lauded by critics and filmgoers alike and there seems to be no end in sight to how much love this film has garnered. While everyone seems gaga over “La La Land” the film is not without its faults.

“La La Land” of course takes place in a modern day Los Angeles but filmed in a way that is reminiscent of an era gone-by, evoking the grandness of classic Hollywood in homage. A lot of the film feels influenced by classic movies like “Singing in the Rain,” “An Affair to Remember” and “Casablanca.” The main characters played by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling elicit this sense as their characters are riddled with classic Hollywood tropes; Stone’s character is an actress with the hopes of making it big and Gosling is a pianist, bent on “saving jazz.” While the film is quite heart-warming in its love letter to Los Angeles and Hollywood itself “La La Land” struggles with originality and perhaps has more style than substance.


Chazelle’s Los Angeles is no doubt beautiful but shallow. Stone and Gosling’s characters are mere stand-ins for archetypes we have already seen and thus the problem of the film is that is does nothing that has not been done already. These types of movies are regularly cherished by the academy as unfiltered nostalgia for Hollywood and has won awards for movies in years past. In 2011 the silent film “The Artist” won best picture along with five other awards. “The Artist” much like “La La Land” was another open letter for classic American cinema, and if there’s anything Hollywood seems to love it is talking about itself. In this sense I am sure “La La Land”  is going to win big at the Oscars this month and take home best picture.

Another fault within the film is the way in which jazz is approached feels somewhat disingenuous. Gosling’s character’s dream is to open up his own jazz club and play it “pure” and traditional. Gosling’s self-proclaimed responsibility for saving the genre from dying invokes the sense the white savior narrative. This narrative is further maintained by John Legend’s character in the film being a jazz musician who scoffs at the idea of playing traditional jazz. Instead Legend and his band play a shallow form of music that is a pop-hybrid of jazz that Gosling’s character fundamentally disagrees with. Jazz greats like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker are briefly brought up but not in a way that gives tribute to the great art form. It comes off as odd that Los Angeles and Hollywood are treated with such reverence yet jazz isn’t treated with the same respect. Jazz has and always has been a beautiful genre created by African Americans and further innovated today by African Americans but in “La La Land” the film gives no room to such idea. Instead Gosling further white washes the view most Americans sadly have of the genre.

Despite my grievances “La La Land” is fully on track to dominate this award season in a way we haven’t seen since the 90s.