If you’re someone who like me, walks through the world with arms outstretched, ready to take anything from a shady look to the overthrow of a foreign government personally, the ascent of La La Land is especially offensive. Among white Hollywood nostalgics and the theater kids who will someday become them, it is widely believed that La La Land is somehow deserving of the award we aim to bestow each year upon the very best film in the world. That this might be the outcome of the awards would be an egregious misstep on the part of the Academy, serving only to make the institution less culturally relevant than it already is.
To be clear, I was not entirely disappointed by La La Land. The colors were bright, and the tap dance scenes were decent, and I cried at one point, although I can’t remember why. Its immense budget is evident in scenes where four hundred highly skilled dancers prance along the 101. There are one or two listenable songs on the soundtrack.
The casting of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling was a curious decision that, I suppose, must be understood aesthetically. Neither of them are particularly talented at singing nor dancing, and in a country where protofascism is slowly evolving into the real thing, I find it difficult to care about the love story of two thin, beautiful, white heterosexuals whose only real problem is that they’re not as revered as they’d like to be at their chosen art form.
If La La Land were a Disney Channel Original Movie, I might be writing an article entitled “My GOD was this Disney Channel Original Movie a Gas.” But La La Land is not a Disney Channel Original Movie. It’s an Academy Award-nominated film competing against what is one of the most beautifully made, heartrending movies of the past hundred years. And no, I’m not talking about Manchester by the Sea. Respect yourself.
Unlike La La Land, Moonlight is a film that transcends the very award for which it has been nominated. After all, the Academy was not conceived in a vacuum. It shares the same racist history as any institution in the Free World, and as such, its standards are inevitably compromised. No film should need the Academy’s affirmation to be considered a cinematic masterpiece, and especially not Moonlight.
But it doesn’t not matter. Award shows are a delayed reflection of American culture at large. In economics, it’s called a “lagging indicator.” In Hollywood, it’s called “we’re too cowardly to put profits at stake, but we’ll speak up when we’re absolutely positive there won’t be serious consequences.” Like pop stars and politicians, the Academy is not on the cutting edge of social progress, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable measurement of where we are as a country.
If Moonlight wins, it’s because it is, by a long shot, the best film up for the award this year. If La La Land wins, it’s because the Academy has chosen once again to honor the story of people who look like (most of) them over that of people who must fight to be humanized on the public American stage.
And one more thing. Educate yourself on the history of jazz here. Don’t trust anything Ryan Gosling says.
Becky Scott is a writer based in New York who loves The Bachelor and is great at giving humorous advice.