green book
Film & Theater

Did “Green Book” Really Win?

Ally Henny

The director of “Green Book” stood up on that stage in front of God and everybody and said that the movie would not have been possible without Viggo Mortensen…a white man…who was nominated for Best Leading Actor…in a movie that is based on the true story of a black man and his experiences with racism…that was written by white men…

If this isn’t an illustration of race relations in America then I don’t know what is.

That acceptance speech was an entire clustercuss and a glaring example of the racism of so-called “progressive” and/or “liberal” white people. They managed to center whiteness the entire time as they accepted an award for a movie whose title and subject matter invoke the oppression of black people in America.

The Real Green Book

“Green Book” is a fictionalized account of the experiences that Dr. Donald Shirley, a pianist, while he was on concert tours in the Jim Crow South. The movie takes its title from “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” an annual guidebook that was printed between 1936 and 1966. Named for its creator, Victor Hugo Green —
a New York City mailman, the book was used by black people as a guide to find services and places that were (relatively) safe and friendly while traveling during the era of Jim Crow.

The movie tells the story of how Tony “Lip” Vallelonga and Dr. Donald Shirley became friends during a cross country tour through the Deep South for which Vallelonga acted as Shirley’s driver. Though well acted, Green Book is nothing more than a White Savior fantasy that tries to pass as a biographical film.

The movie was written by Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son and was produced and filmed before Dr. Shirley’s remaining family even knew about it. Shirley, who passed away in 2013, had previously refused to give Vallelonga permission to make a movie about his life. His family found out about the movie when his grand niece saw an Instagram post in which Mahershala Ali said that he was playing Shirley in a movie.

No one involved with the production bothered to reach out to Shirley’s family. Shirley’s brother, sister-in-law, and nephew have been vocal concerning their misgivings about “Green Book;” so much so that Mahershala Ali personally contacted them and apologized.

Nick Vallelonga claims that he didn’t know that Dr. Shirley had any living relatives. Because apparently Google and genealogy aren’t a thing.
Vallelonga and the rest of the production team’s perfunctory attitude toward Shirley’s family only scratches the surface of the caucasity that this movie is packaged in.  The black actors, the black people who the movie is based on, and the creator of the actual Green Book were nothing but props for these white men to tell a story that made them feel good and made them money.

Benevolent Racism

This speech, like the movie, reeks of white saviorism. To hear them tell it, America needed another story about the pain and oppression of black folks in order for white people to learn how to not be racist.

The problem is that this speech, this entire moment, is racist. What makes it racist? Everything that I just said. Racism isn’t just racial slurs and hate crimes; it can also be benevolent.

This speech is what happens when white people think that they’re “helping,” but they really do nothing more than center themselves and use black pain as a self-help tool.My ancestors didn’t endure generational trauma and terror so that white people in the 21st century can use their experiences as a lesson in how to behave like decent human beings.

This speech is repugnant. There is nothing that can possibly excuse it. Nothing. It is also extremely disappointing that The Academy chose another movie about black pain when Black Panther is about black excellence and BlacKKKlansmen (while also somewhat problematic) at least attempted to bring a fresh perspective and comment on current events.

4 thoughts on “Did “Green Book” Really Win?

  1. Matt Buttler

    What a disappointing list of nominees it was this year. So many good films didn’t receive their due credit and recognition.

  2. Sean Carlson

    Well rats! I actually enjoyed this movie, but I think I sorta, kinda, maybe, get your point. Black Panther, while getting points for an almost entirely black cast, is just another comic book movie.

  3. Thomas W.

    1. This is why watching the Oscars is in constant decline across America. It’s not just the political propaganda and bashing. It’s also mostly about who markets the best campaign to win. For instance, Rami didn’t win because he was actually better than Bale or even Viggo.

    2. Based on your description of the movie (I haven’t seen it), I find Green Book as repugnant as the term “White Fragility”. Benevolent racism.

    3. Black Panther was an excellent movie, but not best of the year. It’s nomination for best picture in my opinion is more of a reflection of white guilt than Oscar level performance. Well deserving of best costume design though.

    4. And honestly, Sorry to Bother You and Widows were more deserving than Spike Lee’s liberal propaganda built around the false framing/Charlottesville Hoax.

    5. Crazy Rich Asians deserved a nod.

  4. Darren R Paulson

    I actually felt a bit uncomfortable watching the movie. I enjoyed it while all the while recognizing the “black guy needed the white guy to save him” angle the entire time.
    I’m thankful that at least I recognized the inconsistencies and issues with this type of story-telling, at least. I’m growing, albeit slowly.
    Ms. Henny, is there a book you might recommend that discusses this type of racism — the type we as Anglos so easily overlook and ignore? I’d like to read more.
    Thank you — Pastor Darren Paulson, Vacaville, CA.

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