La La Land, Racism, and the Real History of Jazz

(image via Variety)

Hollywood loves few things more than it loves itself. I grew up watching old musicals with my mom, and many of them were super meta: musicals about actors putting on a show. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney headlined a whole host of these films, enshrining the “Show within a Show” trope. My dad put it well, when I auditioned for a play in middle school: “Just don’t think you can solve the world’s problems by putting on a show.”

La La Land may not be trying to solve the world’s problems, but it’s certainly trying to save a few people. It won a stupid number of Oscars and was mistakenly announced as this year’s Best Picture (Moonlight actually received this year’s honor). But for all its adulation, La La Land is currently on the receiving end of accusations of racism. And those accusations are well-founded: as Refinery29 points out, one of the two main plots is about a white manic pixie dream boy saving real jazz from the silly Black sellouts. Ouch.

Is La La Land actually racist? The truth is a bit more complicated.

Spoilers abound below the cut.

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The Hamilton Mixtape: Adding Female Stories and Stories of Color

The Hamilton Mixtape has finally come out after much anticipation! I thoroughly enjoyed the musical’s soundtrack and what performances I could see via broadcasts and award shows. So a collection of musicians covering songs from the original and creating new songs that used the originals as starting blocks really intrigued me. The Mixtape is fascinating as an adaptation, as a musical album, and in its culturally progressive themes, and I thought it was a fun overlap of the camp of Broadway and the vulnerability of hip-hop and sincere pop music.

hamiltonmixtape

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Sammus

With the Grammy nominations coming out this past Monday, I’ve got music on the brain. This isn’t a departure from my usual state of brain, but it’s been intensified. And also, the current social climate in the U.S. has been, well, less than friendly towards people of color. So for this week’s web crush, I want to highlight a Black woman making geeky music: nerdcore rapper Sammus. As always, hip-hop is an open, candid art form, so some mild to extremely not safe for work language in some of the songs.

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Dear Nerd Culture: My Blackness Isn’t a Joke

2015 so far has been an interesting year in nerdy media. We’ve had amazing entries that were expected such as Avengers 2 and Metal Gear Solid V, as well as surprises such as Splatoon and Mad Max: Fury Road. These second two proved that diversity can push a franchise. Inclusion and proper treatment of women and girls can really boost a work into the public eye and enrich its quality. Unfortunately, we’ve seen that nerd culture has a ways to go in terms of racial diversity. There have been controversies about the lack of color in Mad Max, Splatoon, and the Witcher 3, among other titles. Lack of inclusion, while getting better, is nothing new; it’s a relatively simple concept that needs to be fixed, but it isn’t the one I want to discuss today. No, I want to highlight a more nebulous problem. I want to discuss the cavalier treatment of Black identity and culture.

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Aesthetic Enforcement: Togetherness in Steven Universe

In recent history, Tumblr has been obsessed with the word “aesthetic” recently almost to the point of parody. While it has become somewhat of a memetic joke, aesthetic choices really affect the tone of an artistic work and can affect its quality. It is essentially a method of thematic enforcement through visuals and sound. As well, I’ve seen fantastic writing about fashion relating to games via Gita Jackson’s Wardrobe Theory series, and Zolani Stewart’s discussions about the Sonic the Hedgehog series’ relationship with visuals. These got me to thinking more about the necessity of strong thematic decisions. A series that works with well with aesthetic enforcement is, surprise surprise, the bright, bold, and often praised Steven Universe.

StevenUniverse_SecondIntroSome spoilers after the jump.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Fanmixes

The spark of creativity for writers can come from innumerable sources—a line from a television show or book, a color, seasons, watching Food Network; who knows. Sometimes for me getting started down that path to a thousand words and beyond can seem impossible, but there’s always one thing that seems to motivate me: music. While there’s certainly something to be said for the method of repeating a song on YouTube for hours on end, or clicking on the related videos until you get to that whispered about “strange side” of the streaming site, these days I find myself drawn more towards online mixes. While I’ve made quite a few mixes, I always love going on sites like 8tracks and Spotify to not only find new music to add to my library, but to see other interpretations of certain characters, ships, and events. And while I can’t link the sites themselves, I was lucky to recently come across a Tumblr that filled this niche of mine: the aptly named Fanmixes.

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