Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Thinks ‘La La Land’ Is ‘Daring and Deserving,’ But ‘Sends A Bigoted Message’ About Race

The Hollywood Reporter's newest contributing editor penned a measured but firm critique of the Oscar contender's treatment of race, jazz, and romance.
"La La Land"
"La La Land"
Photo Credit: Dale Robinette

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar started his new job with a bang. The Hollywood Reporter announced yesterday that it nabbed the NBA legend and culture critic as a contributing editor, and Abdul-Jabbar came out swinging with a measured but firm stance on race in “La La Land” in his first editorial.

Writing that he found Damien Chazelle’s musical “bold, daring and deserving” of its success, Abdul-Jabbar adds, “The better a work of art is, the more we must dissect it… We’re assessing its proper place in our cultural canon.” He goes on to say that while it is Chazelle’s prerogative to write as many or as few black characters as he wants, the racial make-up of the film is fair game when much of it revolves around jazz, “a uniquely African-American music form.”

READ MORE: ‘La La Land’ Review: A Lively Supercut of Classic Musicals Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

A jazz aficionado, Abdul-Jabbar notes that he is happy whenever the art form gets screen time, as it does through the character of jazz pianist, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). “But I’m also disturbed to see the one major black character, Keith (John Legend), portrayed as the musical sellout who, as Sebastian sees it, has corrupted jazz into a diluted pop pablum,” writes Abdul-Jabbar. He elaborates:

“The white guy wants to preserve the black roots of jazz while the black guy is the sellout?… It’s not that a black man can’t be the sellout or the drug dealer, it’s just that they shouldn’t be if they’re the only prominent black character in the story. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, that sends a bigoted message rippling through our society.”

While Slate and Vulture have both criticized the film’s understanding of jazz, only Refinery29 and MTV News have covered the problems of Sebastian’s “white jazz savior” complex. With Abdul-Jabbar at the helm, The Hollywood Reporter gets into the business of calling out cultural appropriation. Slam dunk.

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