Why La La Land isn't supporting the notion of 'White Saviours'

I stumbled across an interesting article yesterday from The Hollywood Reporter, written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entitled, “How ‘La La Land’ Misleads on Race, Romance and Jazz.” Having loved the film I was intrigued to read on! (And I recommend that you do to. You can read the original article here.)

Kareem covers a few different issues he had with La La Land in this article but the one that really stuck out to me was his concern over the character of Keith (John Legend) in contrast to Sebastian. He believes that Keith, as the only main black character in a film about Jazz, is portrayed as a sellout while Sebastian is the white saviour of the art form, the only one interested in preserving the black root’s of Jazz. 

This hadn’t occurred to me until reading Kareem’s views and in fact the way I read the film was almost the exact opposite. 

To come to the same conclusion as Kareem we must assume that Sebastian is the hero of the story. But I would argue that he is not. 

One of the first scenes we see of Sebastian is in his flat with his sister. He is utterly set in his ways, refuses to reason and though he claims he is passionate I would go one further and argue that he is in fact obsessed. He is obsessed with this old school version of Jazz and is unable to compromise in any way. Sure he wants to play the classics but even after being told numerous times not to by his boss he can’t help himself! He’s so single track minded that he cares not for other people’s opinions or desires!

He’s away with the fairies. He has his head in the clouds. He is in la la land.

And honestly it’s frustrating.

Keith (John Legend) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in La La Land

So then we meet Keith. In a world where industries and trends change in a heartbeat he has learnt that the old ways can either adapt or die very quickly. He understands that if he does not try his utmost to help Jazz evolve then it may die out completely. This is reinforced by the local Jazz clubs closing down or turning into tapas places. And so Keith runs with the current trends and composes new music, a kind of jazz/pop fusion and he enjoys great success. He is successfully popularising the genre again.

Sebastian has managed to realise his dream of owning a popular jazz club at the end of the film and this could lead to the popularisation of Jazz once again. However I believe that this is simply the realisation of his own goals, and does not speak of anything wider than personal achievement. Keith’s actions are still much more influential and on a much bigger scale.

So we must ask ourselves, who is the real saviour of Jazz here?

Reading Kareem’s article was the first time I realised that not everyone thought the same of Sebastian as I did. I thought it was clear that he was the obstinate, stubborn and selfish guy I had seen him to be. But it goes to show that in cinema it’s all down to the personal interpretation and that’s what is so great about the medium. Isn’t it incredible that two people can watch the same film and come away with two very different interpretations? 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the original article as much as I have enjoyed putting across my own interpretations. But even more so I would like to know what you guys think!

Is La La Land overstepping and promoting white saviours? Or is it actually a commentary on the state of Jazz, regardless of race?

Sound off in the comments below!


(You can read our review of La La Land here)


written by Bradley Allen

La La Land
By Various Artists
La La Land [DVD] [2017]
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Sonoya Mizuno