In conversation with Minelle Mahtani for 98.3 Roundhouse Radio’s Sense of Place, Nancy Wang Yuen – author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism – breaks down the latent white supremacy of Sunday night’s Oscars mix-up and its subsequent media portrayal.
Nancy Wang Yuen: “…Looking at how it was covered – exactly what you said – it really centered La La Land instead of Moonlight. Really, that moment that they should have gotten to make history was robbed. So, seeing the coverage since that time even that night Emma Stone was getting interviewed because it was her card that was read and so there was all this coverage of Emma Stone, then, the next day, it was all about the producer who was a ‘truth sayer’ rather than anything about Barry Jenkins and the Moonlight cast that actually won Best Picture.”
Minelle Mahtani: “Well, I want to go back to some of your work because I think it’s been such an important contribution in terms of helping us understand the relationship between film and equality, and in particular thinking about race. You have said in your work that Hollywood, by making white men the heroes of every narrative, naturalizes their positions of power across institutions. I want to ask you how that relates to La La Land, which, for me, was a picture about heteronormative whiteness. Tell me more.”
NWY: “Yeah, I think that La La Land is, you know, it’s entertainment. It’s fine. It’s a good, quality film. It has some indie moments. But, I think, what was problematic for me about it was that it’s set in Los Angeles – ‘la la land’ – and the main characters were all white. And it had this nostalgic kind of ‘Make America Great Again’ theme throughout. This kind of, ‘let’s go back to the way it was when jazz was pure,’ but then jazz, somehow, was represented by Ryan Gosling’s character and John Legend was seen as this kind of scary change that is going to dilute this purity. Which is so ironic, because jazz is a uniquely Black American art form, music form. And so, to have La La Land get 14 nominations – the record nominations – it’s not just this ‘oh, it was a great Hollywood insider film,’ which a lot of people were talking about, but really I think it touched on this White supremacist theme.”
Listen to the interview in full on the Roundhouse Radio podcast feed.