I, like millions of other people, went to a theater last winter to enjoy La La Land, the joyous musical chronicling the trials and tribulations of a young, aspiring actress and her boyfriend, a young, aspiring jazz musician. And as its name so appropriately describes, the movie takes place in the land of dreams, Hollywood. The film is warm and gauzy. The whole movie is easy on eyes. It is the comforting embrace of two hours of lavenders and burnt oranges fading into an overwhelming navy sky. It is the dancing and singing in the old Hollywood tradition of Rodger Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. It is enough to make a believer out of anyone. I walked out of the theater behind a woman tap dancing her way to the exit. My feet itched to join hers in a sort of delirious happiness. The music had infiltrated our hearts, but so had the lie that such a Hollywood had ever existed.
The film industry has always been self-promotional, constantly tempting us like a mirage. Maybe not everyone that travels to L.A. will succeed. Still, the image persists. The tantalizing possibilities matter more than the lives left by the wayside. Somehow after decades of evidence of sexism and racism, we still believe. It helps that they know, better than anyone else, how to put on a convincing act. It helps that we only see the characters on the screen and ignore the real actors and actresses behind them. The escapism offered by films extend far beyond the popcorn-scented auditoriums. The same suspension of disbelief that allows for the enjoyment of so many movies, allowed for a willful ignorance of what really goes on before the cameras turn on. Brutal reality crashed upon audiences everywhere on October 5, when the New York Times publicized Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment. The subsequent two weeks saw numerous other women report similar situations where Weinstein used his significant influence as a successful producer to try and coerce them into sexual favors. Their silence was ensured by a similar fear that they would be driven out of the business if they were to accuse a figure of his stature. It took thirty years. Three decades of countless victims intimidated by the threat of not only one man, but the industry-wide acceptance of his actions. Suffering men like Weinstein who exploit their power is still seen as the necessary price of success. After all, dreams don’t come free.
Hollywood is the ultimate drug, promising a candy-coated future, all the while hiding the same old problems that plagues every other aspect of our society. If La La Land had been truer about its intentions, Mia might have been driven to more desperate measures to achieve her goal of stardom. Instead, she is offered the perfect opportunity without having to sacrifice any of her ideals, like so many her real-life counterparts. These are women who are forced to resort to invisible boyfriends or the awkward, laughing brush off to defend against the unwanted advances of other men. La La Land isn’t the first to colorfully airbrush over reality. It won’t be the last. It is up to us to decide whether to pull the blindfold down again.