Film / TV
we didn’t need a ‘green book’ to see this sh*t coming
February 25, 2019
If Green Book’s Best Picture win is good for anything, it’s a strong reminder that the Academy is still very much white. That’s about as silver as this lining is going to get, unless you count the greying group of white men responsible for turning the symbol of Black survival from white American terrorism, into some happy-go-lucky story about a white guy learning that Black people are, in fact, people. To be fair, Viggo Mortensen’s character Tony isn’t the only white person having that realization in 2019.
This Green Book was inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, developed and written by Victor Hugo Green to help Black Americans find safe places to stay and eat throughout the United States during the Jim Crow era. That particular book played a significant part in the story of queer musical genius and acclaimed pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali as a supporting character) and his racist Italian driver Tony Vallelonga (played by Mortensen as the lead), whom he hired to be his bodyguard during the world-renowned musician’s tour of the South, in the 1960s. Considering that the film is called Green Book, you’d think that the story would be centered on Shirley, but this is Hollywood, an industry that conjures any moral high ground it can scrape from being the equal and opposing force to Trump’s America, while protecting and celebrating people who share many of his ideals.
The movie we ended up witnessing was merely another ‘white savior’ narrative meant to applaud the “bravery” of another racist white man who dared to see a Black man as human. The Academy (again, still very white) saw this as groundbreaking enough to hand it a Best Picture Oscar last night. The Oscars have devolved into a body that gives participation trophies to movies that do the bare minimum in unpacking the country’s long, deeply scarring racist past. At least Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, with its white savior/allies and “benevolent slave owners” was beautifully made. Green Book will likely be remembered for the gross insensitivity to the memory of a queer Black icon, for director Peter Farrelly’s history of sexual harassment and for its screenwriter Peter Vallelonga’s public support of Tr*mp’s Islamophobic lies; that’s the caliber of movie Mahershala Ali brought back from the brink of callous ineptitude, (He was, thankfully, awarded for his efforts with his second Oscar.)
Even if you haven’t seen the film, Green Book‘s press tour was a big enough mess to give a feel as to what Black viewers were in for. Dr. Shirley’s family had already come out against the film because they’d not contributed to the story, a detail that began to make sense when the film’s narrative direction became apparent. Vallelonga is Tony’s son, and the stories told by his script were heavily disputed by the Shirley family. The cherry on top of the racially tone-deaf Sundae was a Hollywood Reporter-sponsored Actor’s Roundtable where Mortensen said, “For instance, no one says ‘nigger’ anymore,” when speaking about race in America. This entire situation was awkward on its own, but Mortensen said this in front of co-star Mahershela Ali (who then had to speak about the incident without sabotaging the movie), as well as Chadwick Boseman, Hugh Jackman, Timothy Chalamet and Richard E. Grant.
The racial insensitivity around the making and promoting of this movie should be enough to consider unworthy of the Best Picture Award, but the truth is, when standing in a line-up against the likes of Black Panther, Roma, BlacKkKlansman and even The Favourite, the film simply doesn’t cut it. In fact, Green Book lost its way from the film it could have been, one that took a long hard look at what it meant to be Black and exceptional in the American South during Jim Crow, while bringing white people along for the ride. Instead of the other way around. It is a testament to the severity of racism that white people feel the need to be awarded whenever they think they have overcome it, which sounds like an admission of guilt, if you ask me. Perhaps with the right people making this movie, that’s a conversation we could have been having.
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