Green Book controversially won the Oscar for Best Picture this year. Elizabeth Symington decides whether or not it was well-deserved.
After spending three weeks feeling like ‘A Star is Born’ and ‘Black Panther’ were both robbed of the Best Picture win at The Oscars, I finally decided to go to the cinema and watch the film that got all the glory; ‘Green Book’.
Warning: This article will contain some spoilers, do not read ahead if you don’t want to know the plotline.
‘Green Book’, named after ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’, a guide that outlined where people of colour would be accepted at motels and restaurants in the South, deals with a number of underlying key themes including racism, class, friendship and acceptance.
The film is based on truth and is set in the early ’60s, following the lives of Italian-American bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga played by Viggo Mortensen, and Don Shirley, an African-American pianist played by Mahershala Ali, who received an Oscar for best supporting actor in this role.
The screenplay was written by Bryan Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son. These three writers received the best original screenplay award at the Oscars. The move to include Nick Vallelonga in the writing process and no one from Shirley’s family has brought about some debate. This had the audience thinking this was now a one-sided retelling for the story, however, we will not dwell on this point too much. Let’s get back into the film.
After losing his job as a bouncer at the Copacabana night club while it goes under construction, Tony is forced to find another job to support his family. After a short search, he becomes Don Shirley’s personal driver on his tour down South.
At first, this seems like a task Tony is going to struggle with because of his racist attitude (earlier in the film we see Tony throw out some glasses in his home because they were used by African-American tradesmen). However, as the film progresses you see that they each have a role to help one another, Don must help Tony overcome his ignorance and racist behaviour while Tony is trying to help Don with his snobbish attitude and connection with people.
When Tony first begins the job, he treats Don with a small amount of respect because he is his boss, but as their trip continues you can see Tony’s attitude change and a friendship form. Don helps Tony write to his wife and understand the unfair treatment his people receive, and Tony introduces Don to things he has never tried before, like fried chicken.
The film has struck a great balance between using serious and humorous dialogue to convey its story and messages. I found myself laughing, feeling disgusted and various other emotions within seconds of each other. If you want to feel almost every emotion known to humankind than this is a film for you.
While we see how much Don suffers from discrimination we also see how much he fights it, he put himself in these situations “because it takes courage to change people’s hearts,” if he can change one person’s view that is a step forward.
Don Shirley’s struggle with racism was not the only thing about his character that was explored, his sexual identity was touched on briefly after he is caught fornicating with a man by the police. This moment seemed particularly important in the film as Tony had to persuade the police to let the men go. However, after a small amount of dialogue, this issue is seemingly swept under the rug and not addressed again. While it was a pivotal moment in their friendship it could have been explored further in the film.
Some people have argued that the film is racially tone deaf and presents a naïve romanticised approach to what occurred in the ’60s. While others believe it is a good start at showing how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
The production of this film is astounding, every scene is carefully thought out and you really do get submerged into the 60’s culture. The performances in this film are phenomenal, however, Mahershala Ali shines above the other characters with his incredibly moving performance, he definitely deserved to win best supporting actor.
This movie has both is strengths and weakness, but I will admit that after seeing it I have changed my tune, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘A Star is Born’ are still two of my favourite films, but ‘Green Book’ unquestionably earned the win. Everyone should see this movie and appreciate all it explores.
Feature Image: Green Book, Universal Pictures via, greenbookmovie.com, no changes made