Before I get into this and why I think the current backlash of La La Land is completely unjustified, I'd like to first lay some things down for the record. Everyone who knows me knows my political stances on just about everything: I'm a huge supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I am a supporter of Women's rights and actively support the Women's March on Washington, I am a supporter of LGBTQ rights (and have produced movies dealing with the lives of repressed Gay and Transgender people) and I am politically very, very Progressive. So, when I say this current backlash is BS, it isn't coming from some sort of resentment of the arguments being made about it, but the idea that a film is being attacked for a garden variety of issues, that are real issues in Hollywood, just because we are in a time when the voiceless finally have the opportunity to speak out and create great pieces of fiction/non-fiction, is really wrong. And, in my opinion, it's mainly because of the traction Moonlight has been getting post destruction of The Birth of a Nation.
No one, not a single soul, can deny Moonlight is an exceptional film. The Academy was 100 percent for giving it a Best Picture nod, among others. And coming off the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, Moonlight is a heaven sent. Hidden Figures and Fences are strong ensemble pieces that are well deserving of their Nods (and I actually pray that Denzel will win over Casey) and a blessing for the Black community who haven't been represented in ways other than Oscar bait slavery films by white people or films about young black men in gangs. It's the year for Black Cinema, and I don't want this piece to detract from the importance of this year and those films. But let's be frank, the La La Land backlash is not warranted.
Let's start with Sebastian and his love for traditional jazz. He wants to save jazz because it's dying and wants to open his own club to promote traditional jazz. Fine and dandy, because there are a diverse group of people who love traditional jazz in 2016. There were a diverse group of people who loved it when it was most popular. The issue is the idea of the White Man coming to save the day. Which, in many films, was and is a real problem. But in this particular instance, there are many precursors as to why Seb is the way he is. Damien Chazelle, who was a jazz drummer in high school, wrote and produced this coming from an experience similar to his own. So you can say Seb is a character based on Damien himself. A struggle within himself, who was taught and love traditional jazz, to evolve and progress the art. This film is a love letter to the classic Hollywood musicals, his love of Jazz, and to anyone in the arts crazy enough to actually pursue their dreams.
But Geoff Nelson, a white editor of Paste Magazine (the publication gave a swimming review of the film post-film festival buzz), said in his article “There lies a profound irony in liberal white folks heading to La La Land to repair after a political season overflowing with the nostalgia of white supremacy.” It's absolutely fucking crazy to link this kind of Nostalgia to white supremacy, but it's also very easy for a white liberal to post something in this nature to get himself brownie points for being "progressive." He isn't wrong for his statement on how there is a problem of a good population of white people yearning for the 1950s (there's a poll taken about it), but he's wrong to think that a white man can be nostalgic about something he loves that brings a person back to his childhood.
The people who fantasize about being in the 1950s weren't even alive but firmly believe it was a better time because life looked peachy on Father Knows Best or they are very old and can recall the good times of being a white, male blue collar worker. Damien Chazelle fantasizes about his childhood being a jazz drummer being brought into the world of Jazz music. He fantasizes of seeing his idols live when Jazz was fresh and new. I wish I could go back to 1973 and see Pink Floyd live, does that make me pine for the Vietnam War or rampant racism? Of course not. Pink Floyd was a huge part of my childhood and I wish I could have been alive to see them at their height. But I can't, and neither can Chazzelle. People fantasize about the 1980s, but does that mean they support Reagan's treatment of the AIDs epidemic amongst the gay community? People miss the 90s like it's no one's god damn business, but they don't pine for the mass incarceration of African Americans and increase of private prisons.
There are other, more justifiable criticisms, like the lack of a diverse cast outside of John Legend and the African American jazz musicians, including any LGBTQ characters. I can hop on board with it, but it doesn't mean you can pile drive the film into the ground because a favorite that's going to win anyway is up against it. There is a time and a place for politics, in life, in film, in music, in art, shit, in everything. This is a piece of art by a man who is nostalgic, like any other human being, for when things were pure to him, like 1950's musicals and Jazz, but now that he has grown up, sees the changes and hardships and realities this world has to offer. It's escapism for not only an audience but to himself as an individual. But he recognizes he can't make the rest of his life dreaming about the past.
As Keith says: "How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you're such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future." It's not only a message to himself, but to the industry and to new artists. It constantly reminds you that yes, the past may have been a better time for an individual, but we live in the now and the future is ahead of us. La La Land is the send off to the things he is nostalgic for. Shit, the film is even called La La Land because people's heads are up in the clouds. But when you come back down to real life, Seb says it best when explaining jazz: “It’s conflict, it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting.”
And that's what life is, even if you choose to ignore it and live in La La Land. Sure, everyone wins in the end: Mia becomes an actress, Seb opens his bar. But is it happy for them? Hell no. They missed the now: each other. Their heads were in La La Land that they missed out on each other and the happy future they could have shared with each other, hence the breathtaking finale sequence. Sure, they got what they wanted, but it floats with the idea in vain of "Money can't buy happiness."
So, I digress. The criticisms of La La Land are bullshit. Moonlight is perfectly safe as a Best Picture win. There are more and more African-American starring, directed, written, and produced films coming out with new emerging talent on the rise. Race is and will continue to be talked about, especially in Trump's White Supremacist America. And that is super important. But don't let your politics swoop into something and create a narrative because it's a front-runner against a film you support. It's easy to knock it down, but don't. It's not a white supremacist daydream or an insensitive whitesplaining marathon, it's a film that deals with things that we all deal with, and it's presented through the scope of a particular person. It deserves to be nominated and it is an incredible film.