The rallying cry in the Academy Award winning musical, La La Land is: “Someone In The Crowd”. Nameless, fresh-faced actors pining for a spark toward the stratosphere, are careening down the concourse of dreams looking for absolution. Because change and capriciousness deign their paths, actors are resigned to high risk gambles. A dual discovery is happening. The actor’s persona and the agent’s optimism contend for “the next big smash”. Most hopefuls cannot afford snarky, austere quips when they struggle to pay rent. The key to stardom—and eventually longevity—is seamless adaption. How quickly can actors make the daunting scripts and dispassionate dialogue they get into marketability? Yes, actors dance delicately to music, lyrics, and roles that suck, to reach autonomy.
Before autonomy, there must be potential. This is why “Someone In The Crowd” simulates that dizzying rollercoaster at its finale—because the road to success is disastrous, rife with implosions into nothings. Sure, The title song “City of Stars” is purposefully sentimental and surreptitiously grievous, but the goal is potential. Potential, only secondary to purpose, is the ingredient people must see. And that ingredient is invisible when suppressed by diffidence. Potential without courage is a major theme that makes “La-La Land” so universal. Fixed on the social suicide of race, it’s easy to think disparagingly of a musical about stardom, or more broadly dreams. Because legions of us are aware of how negative “race” is, some employ it in music and entertainment to make us subscribe to a negative self-image about ourselves.
The idea of race is limiting. African-Americans need be aware of race while remembering that race was “designed” to defame.
I felt distraught when I was fed the rhetoric that I should glorify “Moonlight” and banish “La-La Land” because white actors, John Legend, and Los Angeles were somehow socially incorrect. I didn’t hate Moonlight, but it was no “La La-Land”.
Shaming is a mercilessly powerful mechanism when vocations, like writing, or history are weighed by people who believe that every creative endeavor must be weighed against the conquering of gargantuan problems—like social justice.
It had no qualms about Moonlight’s story-line.
You had a drug-addicted parent and a smart, confused boy. Then, there was the neighborhood drug dealer that befriended the wayward boy. Then, all the characters journey in some way discovering how adulterated their relationships were. It was predictable. American media is overrun with stories about troubled black youth. Then, the troubled black boy might be gay. And un-suprisingly, he has a small window of acceptance. Forgive me, if I’m not rushing for the tissues. Where is the hope, where is the potential?
Comparing this narrative to La-La Land, I could not grant amnesty to the production. The stellar all-black cast was not at fault. Then, I realized something.
I know the story of blacks with limited or no real potential. I also know the story of the black youth with toxic support structures, the story of black men and women looking for growth on a scorched field with one barely alive sunflower.
Religious faith is good. For many, including myself, the faith walk is essential. But we all need someone to see our potential and be willing to grow with us, for us, next to us. For me, a musical about a struggling jazz musician with a dream makes that clear.
For me, a struggling actor understands that at least one other person besides the God we serve must think we aren’t all dreaming something impossible.
Enough tragedy happens in my days, and I’d rather know that although I’m not a brilliant actor, I should be worthy of a vocation that helps me pay my student loans. Sometimes, even the person that helps you grab your potential might is the same one you abandon for potential that gives way to greater purpose.