‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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La La Land & The Way I’m Consuming Entertainment

There is really something about going to the cinema on your own.

There is no quarrel with what you’re going to see, nor what food you’re going to eat. You can choose exactly where you’re going to sit, and you are most definitely going to be on time. Everything works in your favor when going to see a film alone, with the only problem being that you can’t actually discuss the film with anyone afterwards. You’re left there, with your thoughts, until you go home and find someone to talk about it with, and this is probably someone who hasn’t seen the film anyway.

Seeing La La Land was my first experience seeing a film alone, and it wasn’t until half way through that I realised something was wrong.

I suffer from depression, and one of the main symptoms is lack of focus/interest. Sometimes I do struggle to watch a whole film or I take a long time to read a whole book, but in this scenario I was entirely focused; I had no other stimuli to distract me from what was on screen, and I nearly teared up right there in the cinema because I thought my mental health was destroying this lovely experience I was supposed to be having.

But, this is ridiculous! I’ve been to the cinema before, watched a film before, and been disappointed with the film. It wasn’t my lack of interest to blame, it was the film in those instances. So why was it different now?

I realised I knew exactly what it was, and I was a mixture of both grateful and sad.

La La Land should be a film that I fall in love with. Not only is it about artists who struggle to do what they love while understanding that ‘doing what you love’ doesn’t always pay the bills, it’s musical, colourful, and has stunning cinematography. I’m known to be a fan of this kind of film-making. Films like Moulin Rouge! Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Her. Shows like Pushing Daisies, The Get Down, and Sherlock. Visually stunning media is my jam, and La La Land should have been a perfect addition.

It had a love story, music, dancing, heart-breaking moments. But this thing that I’d realised about the way I was now consuming media had upset me so much because I had thought it had ruined my enjoyment of the things I love. But it hadn’t. What it had actually done is brought me more awareness about the issues regarding who wins and who doesn’t when it comes to the film industry.

(La La Land spoilers ahead)

La La Land does not actually have a plot. Like many films that are just made to win awards, the film has a basic premise with the distractions of fun musical numbers and pretty colours. But, because of what I’d learned through listening to people discuss the racism in certain books, I could only see Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) obsess over Jazz and how it should be played/listened to while everyone else around him (the people in the band, in the jazz clubs) was black. Jazz is a genre of music derived from the black communities of New Orleans. It was played in speak-easies and in clubs and at parties and has grown into a whole genre that can be enjoyed and played by everyone. But it irked me so much that, this large part of black culture was so prevalent in this movie…and we still focused on the one white guy in the room. The only speaking role a black character had was John Legend’s character, and he was painted as a little bit like an antagonist who wanted to ‘ruin the jazz sound’. It was Sebastian who we were supposed to be rooting for; that one white guy who we’re supposed to consider a visionary when actually he’s just doing what all the black extras are doing, but also throwing hissy fits because things aren’t going his way.

I’ll watch things and the first thing I’ll notice is ‘everyone is white’, and you don’t realise how prevalent it is when you can do it with almost all films and shows. Sherlock is set in London, where 40% of the British Muslim population lives, but according to Sherlock’s London, they just do not exist. HBO’s Girls is set in Brooklyn, where half the population is POC, and all the main girls are white.

Race is not just the issue, but sexuality too. I can watch a show, a film, or read a book and the first thing I will notice is ‘everyone is straight’. Everyone. No matter how many couples you throw in there (I’m looking at you, Sarah J. Maas and Stephenie Meyer), every single one of those couples is straight, and it’s so frustrating because I’m disappointed. How can you thoughtfully write a book, a show, a film, and just completely disregard a whole group of people so easily?

I think, when you grow, and your tastes change, and what you look for in entertainment changes, you always get a little bit annoyed. If you re-read a book that you loved in the past but then realise it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, or watch a film that looks right up your street but it’s just not the same, I think you do feel a sense of loss. But, to think that this awareness has ruined my taste is a very ignorant way to think. In fact, I want to see it positively, because it’s enlightening. I feel like the blinkers have finally come off, and I’m now seeing the screen in wider definition.

I am tired of seeing/reading the stories that are constantly being told about the same groups of people, written and created by the same groups of people. And this is from me, a cis, able-bodied white person where most of western entertainment is about me.  I cannot even imagine being a young child and consuming so much media and never seeing yourself represented, never seeing the black actress in the main role, never reading about a girl in a Hijab saving the world, or never watching a boy fall in love with another boy. Entertainment plays a large part in forming opinions and views of the outside world, and while the film industry is changing and progressing into something more inclusive, it baffles me that films with the same plots still take all the awards for being revolutionary.

La La Land has won a lot of awards, and I can definitely see why. While the storytelling is a little different and is definitely a homage to the golden age of cinema, it is still the same story being told. It is still two white, straight people falling in love. It is still a story of struggle where there is no struggle, just handouts and connections.

Go see La La Land. Go and enjoy yourself. Laugh and cry and sing a long with it; I am not saying it cannot be enjoyed (clearly, it can be), but for me, this film has definitely been a turning point in the way I am going to enjoy books and films and shows from now on.

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