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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