A Chicago student rates movies by the pigmentation of their actors

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.

37 Comments

  1. Posted March 2, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I think everyone knew after last years #oscarsowhite controversy, that this year by hook or by crook there would be more diversity, and records were in fact set.
    I’d seen Arrival, Hidden Figures, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea of the nominees, and went to see Moonlight yesterday, and I have to say it was my least favorite, IMDB agrees with Moonlight at 7.8, and the others at 8.0 or higher. I had no idea what it was about when I went to see it, other than it had a black star. If you haven’t it’s about a gay black man. If I had known that in advance I definitely would have picked it as the winner. Now don’t get me wrong I think it’s a great message given the homophobia within the black community, but it won not for being the the best quality film IMO.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      I wonder, are the RL sub-communities of LGBTQ supporters and Feminism supporters now going to be at each others throats because Moonlight won and Hidden Figures did not?

      I haven’t seen Moonlight yet but I’ve seen Hidden Figures and think it is an excellent movie. The best I’ve seen in a long time, but of course this sort of thing is very subjective and I am no movie expert.

      • Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Yeah I think I would have chosen Hidden Figures from those I’ve seen.

    • jwthomas
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Moonlight doesn’t just “have” black actors; all the speaking parts are by blacks and the few whites visible are extras
      near the edge of the frame. By every criterion I use to judge films Moonlight was one of the very few “art” films produced by blacks. And since I find successful “art” films more satisfying than entertainment films I’d choose Moonlight as the “better” film. Its Writer/Director Barry Jenkins was robbed of the Best Director award which was given to La La Land. You can’t make a film like Moonlight without a good script and great Director.

      • Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        “And since I find successful “art” films more satisfying than entertainment films I’d choose Moonlight as the “better” film.”

        I’m a big fan of “art films” myself, or “boring films” as my wife calls them, and I’m not saying Moonlight was bad, but Moonlight wasn’t the best film this year unless being an art film was necessary to qualify as a choice.

        • jwthomas
          Posted March 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          But how do you judge one film as “better” than another?
          Moonlight was an almost perfectly made film with some interesting ways of using the camera and fine acting from the children to adults.

          What in your opinion was the “best” and why?

          • Posted March 2, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            “What in your opinion was the “best” and why?”

            I’m not going to go into why, but as I said I thought it was Hidden Figures. Having thought a bit more about Moonlight I would say my biggest problem with it is I didn’t find it believable. I have no sympathy for the main character as a result. I certainly have sympathy for gay black men in that context given the rampant homophobia the experince, but I didn’t here. I can only blame the film for not capturing that experience in what I found to be a believable manner. Maybe part of it was the fact that I was bullied as a kid, and the film just didn’t strike me as true.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 3, 2017 at 5:01 am | Permalink

        Would you care to give your opinion about “Hidden Figures,” vis-à-vis “Moonlight”?

  2. BJ
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    If Dr. King tried to speak on a college campus today, espousing that we not judge one another by the color of one’s skin but the content of one’s character (not to mention desegregation, as regressive leftists seem to want segregation to be a thing again), he would be protested by the regressives and possibly have his lectures cancelled due to “the possibility of violence.”

    • Posted March 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      And they would also say that he is not truly black.

  3. Dan
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Interesting to note that all of the musicians who played on the soundtrack were white guys from LA. On stage in the movie, they were primarily portrayed as African Americans.

  4. Christopher Bonds
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I have seen both movies. (We have seen all but one of the best picture nominees.) I think Moonlight was the better picture, but it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. La La Land is fantasy; the other is gritty realistic drama. What evaluative criteria encompass both films, and are those criteria most important in determining which is “better”?

    In attempting to answer those questions, the most important thing for me is whether or not there are any moments when I am aware that I am watching a movie rather than entering into the story. That’s the kiss of death for me, but there are of course many movies in which I can lose myself completely that would never have been nominated for best picture.

    Script, directing, acting, cinematography, score, editing: all have their own award categories, but best picture awards should go to those in which all those things harmonize seamlessly to create a total effect that leaves you a little better off for having seen the film.

    • George
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I have also seen both movies – the only two of the nine nominated for best picture that I have seen. I thought both movies were good but not great. They are very different movies. I think Moonlight will look fine on video. If you can see La La Land in the theater, try to – just for the visuals.

      • Posted March 2, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        If identity politics wasn’t such a hot button issue this year I suspect La La Land would have won hands-down, not so much because it is better, but because the Oscars is about promoting cinema as a medium, and La La Land is a cinematic experience.

        Moonlight won’t lose half as much entertainment value on the ‘small’ screen.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      “What evaluative criteria encompass both films, and are those criteria most important in determining which is “better”?

      I am not a knowledgeable amateur let alone an expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night!

      It seems to me that in a category as broad as “Best Picture,” in which the nominees can be very different as in the example of La La Land vs Moonlight, that it probably isn’t appropriate to judge between them by comparing them directly to each other. At least not only. I think it is fair to also consider how good each movie is compared to other movies in its specific genre, how close to hitting perfection in all the criteria specific to its genre. How good of a musical is La La Land? How good of a gritty realistic drama is Moonlight? Is one a better epitome of its specific genre than the other?

      I am a bit biased. I am not a big fan of musicals generally, though I do like some. Gigi (the original one!) is probably my favorite.

    • Dan
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      I have seen most of the nominated movies. I think Arrival or Hell or High Water should’ve been considered more seriously, maybe even Hacksaw Ridge. They are superior in quality and entertainment value to either of the “frontrunners”. Moonlight is just an Oscar baiting movie. I was neither entertained nor emotionally manipulated, even though they tried hard to do so.

      I believe that Moonlight is a product of its time, a backlash against #oscarssowhite. It will follow in the footsteps of similar forgettable best pic winners like Crash. It has little rewatchability value. Compared to, say, Twelve Years a Slave, which is destined to be a classic. Moonlight is no classic.

  5. George
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I think PCC(e) should cut Ashvini Kartik-Narayan some slack. She is 18-19 years old and by definition an ignorant fool. I will avoid using words such as an idiot, dolt, etc. This pretty much applies to all 18-22 year olds even at the University of Chicago. I myself was not an idiot at that age at UofC. Moron would be a more appropriate term.

    • eric
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I somewhat agree with you and somewhat don’t. On the one hand, yes, students go to university to learn critical thinking, not because they can already do it. What student authors, editors, scientists, etc. are more a form of practicing rather than actually doing professional work.

      OTOH, the college years I think are the time when it becomes reasonable to start criticizing their ability to act like rational grown-ups. They are still in the ‘cut them some slack’ years, but they are also well beyond the ‘if they tried their best, they get an A’ years.

      • Posted March 2, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t call her names; I criticized her ideas, as any professor would do. In other words, I treated her as an adult. If she doesn’t get this feedback now, she’ll get it at some point.

      • Les
        Posted March 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        (This is not in reaction to a specific comment; just a general thought)

        In internet comments, I have yet to see an argument that was enhanced by calling someone names.

        If someone calls someone I hate a name, it might be satisfying but it doesn’t works to
        convincing anyone.

        This is especially true when the poster is not well known to the reader. An insult from one of 7,000,000,000 human beings has no information value.

    • Dan
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Speak for yourself. I was a liberal pinko treehugger in College, but never advocated anything close to SJWism in my day. Indeed, we prefer to talk about issues than identity. Oh how the left has left us.

  6. eric
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    its Oscar-sweeping predictions, its colossal number of nominations, and its plethora of awards outside of Best Picture are still a source of concern

    For goodness’ sake, why are those things a concern? Two of it’s three Oscars had nothing to do with the actors or actresses. In fact of the fourteen awards I count it won across multiple awards shows, nine of them had nothing to do with the people appearing on the screen. Two of the remaining six came for best picture in the “musical or comedy” category, which Moonlight didn’t even qualify for. So of fourteen awards, four of them had to do with the people on the screen. That’s hardly evidence that the movie only got awards because it was lily-white.

  7. jay
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    BE IT DECLARED:

    Henceforth ALL movies must be made with appropriate percentages of all races, religions, nationalities, genders (both real and delusional).

    Characters that behave in bad or criminal ways must NOT be cast as any individual of victimization UNLESS said characterization plainly explains that the bad behavior is not from the individual, but from the the centuries of white, male, eurocentric oppression, in which case the bad behavior is fully acceptable.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Moonlight was plainly the best picture. It’s something no one’s ever seen before, beautifully rendered in both its conception and its execution — a film for cinephiles to savor.

    Don’t get me wrong; La La Land was a fine, well-crafted movie, deserving of the awards it’s won. But it was essentially a throwback to the magnificent old MGM musicals, updated with modern techniques and technologies. (And the singing and dancing, always competent and sometimes great, never quite lived up to the promise of its opening production number done in an extended tracking shot on the LA 105 freeway). I’ve liked the two leads a lot in a number of their prior performances, and thought they both gave more than creditable performances here, particularly for actors not known primarily for their singing and dancing.

    I didn’t interpret La La Land‘s subplot with the John Legend character as any type of whitewashing of jazz. (Hell, West-Coast Jazz has always been kinda white anyway, with Brubeck and Desmond, Baker and Getz.) In a sense, I think it was the opposite — an effort to establish the bona fide cool of Ryan Gosling’s character by showing him to be even blacker than black.

  9. Posted March 2, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for human diversity in movies and other entertainment.

    But just *do* it and don’t even make a deal of it. That’s why I think Star Trek was groundbreaking (despite not going far enough). (And why there was later backsliding, alas.)

  10. Bob Murray
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate this is a facetious comment but I would love to read the writer’s thoughts on the output of Nollywood, Bollywood and Hong Kong cinema with regard to diversity.

    • Dan
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      According to SJWs, it’s only white people who needs to be criticized for their privilege. Since most SJWs are also white, it looks a lot like self loathing to me.

      But what do I know? I’m just a brown guy that needs a white knight SJW to help me cause I am incapable of sentient thought and action.

  11. Posted March 2, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Denzel Washington is a fine and prolific actor but only ever gets critical attention when he makes an ‘issues’ movie.

    If the Oscars have a problem it’s that they ignore popular, mainstream movies, in which actors just happen to be black.

    The ones that a supposedly racist audience go see without a thought about the hero’s colour.

    • Dan
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Yet he won an Oscar for Training Day, which is not an “issue” movie. It’s just a damn well acted role (that could very well be cast with a white actor) in a very entertaining film.

      Denzel is an actor I follow. I watch his art house films and his blockbusters. And he does get critical attention for both.

      Don’t sell him short by saying that critics only notice him for “issues” films.

  12. kelskye
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    “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.”
    If the reg left didn’t have moralising, they’d cease to exist.

    They can’t ever just enjoy something for what it is, but have to criticise it and moralise about it for what it isn’t.

  13. Posted March 2, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen either of these movies or any of the others nominated. I haven’t gone to theaters to see movies in many years because of the misbehavior of some theater-goers. I usually wait until a movie is out on video. My guess is, however, that if I still saw movies in theaters, I wouldn’t have gone to see either “La La Land” or “Moonlight”. Although the same medium was used for both, the two films were
    almost on opposite ends of the spectrum. One seemed to go too far back in the past trying recapture the grand ol’ days of the Hollywood musical. The other seemed to depict a segment of life that many people would not want to be exposed to whether it happened to people of color or white people. Escapism vs. gritty reality. Both have their place. One is not necessarily better than the other. It might be like comparing Voltaire’s “Candide” (which was made into a wonderful musical by Leonard Bernstein) to most of the Russian novels (let’s say Dostoevsky.) Depends on the choice of the person wanting to be “entertained.”

  14. Dan
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    As a person of brown color, I am not a fan of affirmative action, even in Hollywood. I prefer to watch a movie based primarily on its entertainment value. I don’t care about the actors’ ethnicity, gender, or religion (and I love to watch Tom Cruise movies).

    Too much nanny-ing by SJWs. Please, we don’t need you to patronize us. We can manage on our own, and we hate to be pigeonholed by your identity politics.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    How could Moonlight possibly be any good? Where were the Chinese actors? The Indians? The South Americans? The Iraqis? The Inuit?

    Last time I checked, the dictionary definition of ‘diversity’ was not ‘American black’.

    [/sarcasm]

    I think characters should be of whatever ethnicity (or gender, etc) best fits the story. I don’t think the story should be twisted to include ‘minorities’ of whatever description solely in the name of ‘inclusiveness’.

    cr

    • Dan
      Posted March 2, 2017 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Despite your sarcasm tag, I do think there’s merit in your point. Inclusiveness has always meant two, possibly three, things: blacks, women, and now LGBTQ. Asians are upwardly mobile minorities, so they are seldom thought of by the SJWs. Indeed, I am starting to see some backlash against Asians from the regressives, mainly because they do not care much for identity politics, and also because Asians are being used as a foil against the moribund state of black americans in general.

      Pretty soon we will start hearing about Asian privilege. How as Asians we can’t even notice our privilege. That because of our success in society relative to other minorities, that we are favored by whites. We’re the new uncle toms.

      • Posted March 3, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        From nominally the other side, I’ve already seen things like “I’m not racist against blacks when I call them stupid, because I say also that Asians are smarter”.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    I mainly want to see Moonlight because Naomie Harris is in it. And I want to see La La Land, because Emma Stone is in it. So there.

    =-=-=

    I’m occasionally inclined to defend the word “nuance” when JAC calls it a “run-word”, but boy oh boy, here it is a “run-word”!!

    Head for the hills, these hills!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 3, 2017 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      Naomie Harris? Oh yes, I recall her from Skyfall and Spectre. Very attractive.

      Of course, I’m not sure if Bond films enhance her PC cred (or mine), but I just so don’t care…

      cr


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