Why Green Book Has Been in the Red



Doesn’t look like Driving Ms. Daisy to me.

Joey Gentile, Co-Editor-in-Chief

On February 24, the 91st Academy Awards were held in Los Angeles, California. This year, there were a number of nominations and wins that raised eyebrows. However, the Best Picture Winner, Green Book, has caused the most controversy in the weeks following the Oscars. Some celebrities and audiences are outraged because another film that has been branded as “white-savior” has been given high praise by the Academy.

This year’s Best Picture winner has fallen victim and is being wrongfully condemned for supposedly following this trend.

Green Book follows Dr. Don Shirley’s (Mahershala Ali) music tour through the deep south and Midwest United States in the early 1960s. Accompanied by his driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), Shirley faces segregation and racism and the audience watches Vallelonga put aside his own prejudices and protect the persecuted musician.

When Julia Roberts presented the award for Best Picture this year, first-time Academy Award winner Spike Lee got out of his seat and attempted to walk out of the Dolby Theater in protest before being stopped at the door and told to return to his seat where he turned his back during the acceptance speeches. After the ceremony, Lee told the press that he “thought [he] was courtside at the Garden and the refs made a bad call.”

Lee has been the most outspoken following the Academy’s decision to give Green Book Best Picture. The primary argument behind the trending topic was that the directors and writers took the story of one of the most influential African American musicians, and made it about his caucasian driver. Those supporting this claim have also stated that this is the most recent movie in a long-running pattern. Citing films such as The Blind Side and The Help, it has been pointed out that Green Book shares the aspect that all of these movies portray African Americans as the victim and constantly in need of the protection and assistance of white men and women. The outraged beg the questions “why do movies like this keep getting made,” and “why do they keep getting nominated and winning awards?”

Although I understand this argument and agree that these films are a part of a long-running motif within Hollywood, I disagree that they deserve any harsh criticism. Green Book, The Help, and The Blind Side are all retellings of societal struggles that happened in the past. To criticize their stories is equivalent to denying the history of our country. As much as certain individuals would like to, we cannot change or erase the past.

People will argue that Green Book is not totally accurate because the family of Don Shirley has said that they were not consulted in the making of the film. How can a story be true if the people that knew one of the characters best did not get to share their points of view of what happened? Fortunately, the answer is quite simple. Nick Vallelonga, son of Tony Vallelonga, was one of the writers. At the end of the movie, it was said that Don Shirley and his driver remained close friends until they passed in 2013. After winning Best Picture, Nick was talking to the press and recounted a conversation he had with Shirley himself before his death. Vallelonga says that his family friend’s wishes were that no one else be consulted other than himself and Tony, and that the film be made only after his passing.

All-in-all, I believe that people are missing the true message of Green Book and all other films that have been branded as “white savior.” There have been complaints in the past 20 years that the Oscars are “too white.” Then, movies such as The Help and The Blind Side started being made and nominated and people still aren’t happy. Instead of taking these, especially Green Book, at face value, I encourage people to dig a little deeper and hopefully realize that the message present is what everyone has been longing for: empathy for one another. Do not only take Green Book for a movie about a white guy driving around an African American and saving him whenever he needs help. See that it is really about someone putting aside and overcoming his personal biases and accepting and helping a musician struggling to accept his own culture while witnessing and experiencing what people of his race had been for centuries. It’s about two very different people coming together and learning what’s right and wrong within their own personal lives. What’s so bad about that?