Why Is City Hall Celebrating the Racially Divisive La La Land?

This is Los Angeles?
This is Los Angeles?
Courtesy Lionsgate

La La Land has been criticized for its privileged, white view of a metropolis where nearly three out of four people are a minority. So why is City Hall celebrating today as La La Land Day?

L.A. Weekly film critic April Wolfe called La La Land a "divisive" propaganda film, "a throwback to the 1950s without acknowledgment of how terrible the 1950s were for marginalized communities."

"It offers no critique of how, for instance, African-Americans are shut out of the industry; the film shuts them out itself," she wrote in a scathing essay in February. "Here, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is the man who knows the real jazz, while Keith (John Legend) is depicted as some kind of grifter, who stole Sebastian’s money and dreams, and defiles jazz with an infusion of pop."

NBA legend, author and jazz aficionado Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had similar feelings in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter, in which he accused the film of helping to send "a bigoted message rippling through our society."

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper last year noted the near absence of L.A.'s largest ethnic group in the film: "There have been three high-profile productions this year in which Los Angeles has played a starring role: Hail, Caesar!, Café Society and La La Land, the last of which has high hopes as we enter the awards season. Yet none of the three casts much light on the millions of Latinos who live, work and play in the capital of film."

"We don't get the casting call for La La Land," Mexican-American pop culture historian William Nericcio, director of San Diego State University’s Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Science program, told the Weekly in February.

Today's scheduled City Hall celebration is expected to include "live performances inspired by the film, including a medley of the film's soundtrack, and aerial dancers performing high up on the façade of City Hall," according to a statement from the mayor's office.

"Mayor Eric Garcetti will declare April 25, 2017, 'La La Land Day' in Los Angeles, as part of a celebration of Los Angeles as the creative capital of the world," according to the statement. "Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land, will also be honored for his portrayal of the city and its iconic landscape."

Lionsgate, the studio behind La La Land, is paying for the party, said mayoral spokeswoman Anna Bahr.

"No public money is being spent," she said via email. "Mayor Garcetti is attending the press conference in support and celebration of arts and culture in Los Angeles — in this case, a film that was shot almost entirely in the city of L.A., employed hundreds of Angelenos for the duration of its production, and highlights the city's iconic landscape and architecture."

The celebration comes on the same day La La Land is being released on a variety of home video formats. So City Hall is being used to promote a studio release. The city has done this before: Aug. 7, 2012, was declared Bob Marley Day in Los Angeles, a date that coincided with the DVD release of a documentary about the reggae superstar.

At least Marley was, like most of L.A., a person of color. Perhaps City Hall should take a page from the Academy Awards telecast and declare today as Moonlight Day in a last-minute surprise.


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