by Ava Thompson
Prepare yourself for the most unpopular opinion in recent memory - I think La La Land was just okay. Still with me? Okay good, now let me explain why. It did not do anything new. It did not do anything special. It had a Ryan Gosling dancing and pretty scenery and a few songs that stuck in your head like glue. It wasn’t life-affirming or changing and it wasn’t magical to me at all. What’s magic? Moonlight.
A story about a poor black boy growing up gay in the projects with a crack-addicted mother. Yes, there are more than a few familiar tropes in that sentence alone but it actually added to the conversation and it shook norms. Where a stereotypical-typed mind would think they’d hear rap throughout every provocative scene in a movie written, directed and starring black men, they’d instead find classical music or a little bit of silence. It was cut into three parts, giving not just one black actor a job or a voice but three. What did La La Land have? White people playing the same three chords and calling it jazz. Several dance numbers that were predictable because they’ve been done before. For example, the heavily-lauded ending scene is just a reworking of the ending in An American in Paris-- along with numerous other classics throughout the film as the NY Times points out. Now, I understand why people like it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it too. But ultimately it’s just another movie about two white people falling in love.
As a woman of color with a large array of friends and family that are queer, non-gender binary, and of every kind of religion, race, and creed, I am just so tired of seeing the same things being over-loved while the stories made by people of color and other non-heteronormative identities are pushed aside and called less than. Emma Stone cries over and over again about how she believes she’s not good enough and Ryan Gosling is afraid he’ll never reach his dream and I understand that and I relate to it. But in Moonlight, the title character as a teenager is beaten up in front of his classmates and he retaliates but gets taken to the principal’s office, something we don’t see happening to the people who did the same to him. She dryly tries to console him by telling him she understands and as he holds an ice pack on his bloody face he starts to cry and sobs, “No, you don’t even know.” And that perfectly encapsulates how we all feel. Marginalized and beaten and ignored. What about our story? Yes, everyone has a dream but what about the kids and teenagers who never get to realize theirs because they commit suicide when they realize or it’s pushed in their face that they’re gay or Muslim or transgender? That’s what Moonlight means to me and so many others. La La Land was underwhelming to me because it was just another pretty-looking story. And yes escapism is nice sometimes, but a lot of us can’t escape our reality. Moonlight gives a voice to these people. And it’s one I’d rather hear.
*Written the day before the Oscars