Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Roman, and Bohemian Rhapsody. This years’ Oscar nominations for best pictures were full of diversity and inclusivity. But to everyone’s surprise, Green Book, aka the big white savior movie, took home the highly coveted award.
When Julia Roberts announced that the film won, I sat on my couch, hoping a La La Land/Moonlight thing would happen again. But no one came to the stage to announce the mistake.
If you watched the show, you saw that the camera immediately panned to countless celebrities who were less than pleased with the win. Spike Lee even got up and walked out while other celebrities turned their backs as the producers and director gave their speech. And although Mahershala Ali won his second award for “Actor in a Supporting Role” — the first black and Muslim man to do so — director Peter Farrelly gave all the praise to Viggo Mortensen. Much like Dr. Shirley in the film, Mahershala was an afterthought.
When I first saw the trailer for Green Book, I was all in, anticipating the theatrical release. A Sam Smith song played in the background and two of my favorite actors were side by side, telling the story of one of the greatest black composers.
But what I got was a watered down movie about a white driver who’s seen as a hero because he overcame his racism. The movie is shown through Tony’s eyes and was written by his son Nick. Of course he’s going to paint his father in a positive light and make it seem like his dad and Dr. Shirley were great friends. It’s essentially a movie to make white people feel better about themselves.
Although the movie was a winner in the eyes of Oscar voters, it hasn’t been without controversy. There’s a lot of speculation around the accuracy of the film. Every single member of Dr. Shirley’s family has said that the way he was portrayed in the film is completely inaccurate, particularly Dr. Shirley’s attitude towards the black community.
The film portrays him as being out of touch with his blackness and Tony, the white guy, teaches him “how to be black,” or at least what he thinks being black is. There’s even a scene where Tony claims that he’s blacker than Shirley. Forget the fact that Dr. Shirley was a part of the Civil Rights movement and was friends with some of the movements greatest leaders. Dr. Shirley’s brother Maurice called the film a “symphony of lies.”
As for the relationship between Shirley and Tony, Shirley’s family said that it was “An employer-employee relationship.” In a post-Oscar’s speech, Green Book writer Nick Vallelonga claimed, “I didn’t even really know they existed until after we were making the film.” He also stated that Shirley didn’t want him to have any contact with his family. This completely contradicts the many accounts given by Shirley’s family.
Dr. Shirley’s nephew Edwin said,
“I remember very, very clearly, going back 30 years, my uncle had been approached by Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, about a movie on his life, and Uncle Donald told me about it. He flatly refused.”
Mahershala even apologized to Edwin, Dr. Shirley’s nephew. He claimed he was never told that there were relatives to which he could have spoken to get a better insight about who Shirley was. It sounds to me that Nick Vallelonga kept a lot of people in the dark so he could tell the story he wanted, not necessarily the story that was true.
To make matters worse, a few months back, Viggo Mortensen, who plays Tony, actually said the n-word. “People don’t say n—-r anymore.” Uh, you just did Viggo.
He, of course, apologized, claiming that what he meant to say was that people just don’t use it as often as they used to. I don’t know what kind of post-racial world he’s living in, but clearly, he’s out of touch. Yet the Academy still thought it was appropriate to nominate him for the Best Actor award.
The biggest thing that confused me while watching the film, was the lack of discussion about Green Books. Why give a movie the namesake of a book that was detrimental to black travelers in the deep South, if it’s rarely going to be talked about?
The Negro Motorist Green Book, written by Victor Hugo Green, was in publication from 1937 to 1966. It was basically a “traveling while black” guide. It let readers know where it was safe for them to eat and stay while traveling through the south. It even warned them about “sundown towns,” areas where non-white drivers would be attacked or killed for driving through the area at night.
I can’t get too mad at the Academy though. This year was a huge achievement for women and PoC when it came to winning awards. Many of the speeches had me crying my eyes out.
But for Green Book to win over Black Panther, Roma, The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody and BlacKkKlansmen? Just no. At the end of the day, it’s a race movie made by white people for white people.