I made a bet with my friend about which film would take the Academy Award for best picture this year. I said Moonlight; he said La La Land. We made this bet after seeing Moonlight, not having seen La La Land. My friend was sure critics would choose a white film regardless of anything, but I insisted Moonlight was unbeatable.
Having seen La La Land twice, I still believe Moonlight is unbeatable. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be beat.
Let’s get this out of the way: La La Land is the white film and Moonlight is the black one and you think that’s why I want Moonlight to win.
Gently wipe your touchpad of nervous sweat and tears as I explain.
I love musicals to death and La La Land swept me off my feet. Its exploration of those damn “dreams vs. reality” and “career vs. love” dichotomies are timeless and true. I feel them in my bones every day.
The emotionally pervasive Moonlight captivated me in a different way. It’s beating heart is a poor, gay black boy raised by a drug addict and a drug dealer.
Ironically, one track off Nicholas Brittel’s haunting, violin-based score is better than any song in La La Land, mainly because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can’t sing.
Also because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can’t sing.
Acting-wise? Ryan Gosling is tremendous at playing an irresistibly sensitive rebel and Stone, a quirky independent woman. You know, like, the people they really are. I don’t blame them for being likable. I like them. But a minute of Naomie Harris’s multiple-decade-spanning performance as an unstable, drug-addicted single mother? Mahershala Ali’s as a part time drug dealer and full time father figure?
The music and acting aren’t even the point. The point is that Moonlight challenges old conventions while La La Land celebrates them.
The film with the most merit is the film that whispers in society’s ear and sends a message to its past, present and future. La La Land and Moonlight are both whispering in society’s ear.
La La Land says, “It’s possible to honor past traditions as long as you cater them to the current day and age.”
Moonlight says, “People are more complicated than your judgments.”
Got racial divides, America? Got a resurgence of outdated modes of thought?
This push in the entertainment industry — this whole “take your broken heart and turn it into art” thing? Is that about all our broken hearts or just the broken hearts of two starry-eyed white people who happen to love black things?
Is La La Land really a diverse movie if its most prominent black character exists as a plot concept rather than a fleshed out human with a story?
Is a reparatory “Hidden Fences” themed lineup of nominees enough to compensate for #OscarsSoWhite and #AmericaSoWhite?
In 2017, for Hollywood to say that La La Land deserves an award that esteems it the most culturally relevant film of the year? Well…its broken heart isn’t quite broken enough. Perhaps it isn’t broken at all.
For the record, I found the #OscarsSoWhite boycott silly. I don’t vilify the ceremony for reflecting the industry’s poor output of POC-led movies last year. To quote the incomparable Janet Hubert, “It ain’t that deep.”
What is that deep is the fact La La Land’s version of representation says, “we love jazz and recognize black people made it! So enjoy John Legend and all these black background actors. But hey, it’s really about what jazz means to Ryan Gosling.” *blue-eyed wink*
You almost had it. I believed in you. And you threw it away.
What if we appreciated La La Land while giving the highest honor to a film that has the power to affect our understanding of marginalized humans in our racially-charged times?
Well, I’d win the bet, and by proxy, we all would.