I couldn’t swear to you that our student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, represents the sentiments of students in general, for of course there’s probably a selection bias about who contributes. But the contributors are almost uniformly Regressive Leftists, and, judging by what I see on campus, that ideology is pretty widespread. I occasionally give examples, and today’s is an op-ed piece by Ashvini Kartik-Narayan, a first-year student at my University.
Her piece, “Living in La La Land,” applauds the selection of “Moonlight” as winner of the Best Picture Oscar, but apparently not because of its inherent quality: nothing is said about the film’s merits, nor even its plot. No, the emphasis is on the whiteness of “La La Land” and the fact that “Moonlight” has actors of color. Indeed, the whiteness of “La La Land” itself is attacked as a flaw.
Now I haven’t seen either movie, but I argued before that there’s no reason why “Moonlight” couldn’t have been simply been chosen because it was indeed the best picture, even though odious venues like HuffPo touted it as a “vote for inclusivity,” which is really a denigration of the film’s merits, exhibiting the racism of low expectations. Judging by my readers’ reactions, as well as the site Rotten Tomatoes, “Moonlight” was the better film, and if I had a choice of which to see, but could see only one, I’d go for the drama rather than the musical. (In writing this, I’m not denying that Hollywood may have a problem of low ethnic diversity due to bias, but I can’t speak knowledgeably about that.)
Kartik-Narayan, however, spends her piece explaining why a film that has actors of color is simply better for that reason alone. Some quotes:
I’ll be the first to admit that I cried when I saw La La Land. How could I not? The romance, the theatricality, the music—it was exactly the movie everyone in Hollywood wanted to see, starring the same people Hollywood always wants to see, even if it didn’t win Best Picture. La La Land was a visual masterpiece, a musical feat, and an engaging story. But it was also a story told by an essentially all-white cast. In comparison with other Oscar-nominated films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, which explore narratives unfamiliar to white America, La La Land, for all its hype, lacks the diversity that would have made for a truly nuanced story. Of course, the film ultimately lost Best Picture. But its Oscar-sweeping predictions, its colossal number of nominations, and its plethora of awards outside of Best Picture are still a source of concern, and a telling sign of the narratives Hollywood continues to be enamored with.
There is, of course, no reason why ethnic diversity is a sign of a “truly nuanced story.” I needn’t give counterexamples. And even though “Moonlight” won, Kartik-Narayan still finds a reason to beef, for those infatuated with identity politics are never satisfied.
Re “La La Land” she says this:
The only non-white characters were either extras or John Legend’s character, Keith, who primarily served as a frustrating foil to Sebastian’s insistence on jazz traditionalism. This was an especially infuriating plotline, considering the movie never acknowledges the historically African-American roots of jazz.
Indeed, the roots of jazz are African American, and it’s the greatest genre of music ever created by Americans. But was there specifically a place where those origins should have been acknowledged? And is it really “infuriating” that that acknowledgment wasn’t made, especially given that the movie won? Since I haven’t seen the movie, I’ll ask readers who did whether they saw a deliberate marginalization of blacks?
Kartik-Narayan thinks so, and evenb demands that the movie itself acknowledge the discrimination that she sees in Hollywood:
The problem is, by telling a story about an industry that systematically shafts minority actors and artists without acknowledging the discrimination taking place, we miss out on a key component of being an entertainer in the modern era. The obstacles that Mia and Sebastian face are not invalid or unimportant, but they don’t scratch the surface of the depth of challenges that minorities in this industry encounter. The movie is beloved by Hollywood because it romanticizes rather than criticizes Hollywood. As a result, although La La Land is praised for its uniqueness, it fails to differentiate itself completely from every other Hollywood love story. The record-tying number of nominations and the commendable number of victories are shocking, if not uncalled for.
As far as I can see, Hollywood has recognized the problem of underrepresented minorities, and, indeed, if “Moonlight” did get the Oscar for diversity instead of quality (the author seems to think so), then that itself is an acknowledgment of the problem. Kartik-Narayan’s conclusion that more “diverse” films are better films is implicit in this statement:
We can enjoy La La Land as a movie while still criticizing the media that gives it attention at the expense of arguably more deserving, and definitely more diverse, films. The phenomenon we should be paying attention to is the system that consistently rewards narratives like La La Land over movies that strive to depict alternative narratives and explore perspectives that white America often ignores.
Of course we need to hear more and different voices, not just to listen to those whose voices have been ignored, but because they have different stories to tell—stories that put us in other peoples’ shoes in unique ways. But we simply cannot judge art by the ethnicity of the artists themselves. That is patronizing to minority artists and damaging to art. By ignoring what made “Moonlight” a better picture—beyond the pigmentation of its actors—Kartik-Narayan plays into this narrative.