How Green Book became this year’s polarizing awards contender
Soon after we meet Tony Vallelonga in Green Book, the Italian-american man tosses out a pair of water glasses because Black repairmen drank out of them.
His wife fishes them out of the trash can. But by the end of the movie, which follows Tony as he chauffeurs acclaimed jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley through the Jim Crow South for a two-month concert tour, Tony is the one inviting the Black man into his home. This shouldn’t come as much of a spoiler.
Green Book, based on a true story and co-written by Tony’s son, Nick, has been promoted as a healing tale of how the two men, played by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, overcome their differences and form an unlikely friendship in the early 1960s.
Whereas Tony is poor, crass and prejudiced at first, Shirley is wealthy, uptight and wise. Each one changes by listening to the other — Tony teaches Shirley how to let loose, albeit via stereotypes like eating fried chicken and enjoying “Black music,” and Shirley teaches Tony how to accept those who aren’t like him. The movie, a buddy comedy of sorts, has racked up accolades: it won the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award, was named best picture by the National Board of Review and, on Tuesday, landed on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 list.
But Green Book has also received its fair share of backlash, largely from critics who find fault with how it handles racial conflict. Some critics, like Monique Judge at the Root, feel that the movie “spoon-feeds racism to white people.” The racism seen in the movie is mild compared to “actual racial terrorism” that Black people faced then and continue to experience, Judge argues.
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Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen, left, and Mahershala Ali, has received backlash from critics who find faults with how it handles racial conflict.