Friday, June 14, 2019

Green Book (2018)

Dr. Don Shirley: You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity. ~from Green Book (2018)
Anyone who wants to see a film about a fascinating friendship with breathtaking acting must see Green Book (2018). It features Mahershala Ali as the great pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver and bodyguard, Tony Lip. The film depicts the unlikely camaraderie between two strong characters, each with his own code of honor. Don is a multilingual, highly-educated and cultured gentleman who studied classical piano in Moscow and is most comfortable in cosmopolitan circles. Tony is a night-club bouncer from an Italian Catholic family in the Bronx; he is rough and crude but a devoted husband and father. Tony is a bit of a con-man, with a coarse way of speaking, as well as having his own ignorant prejudices. However, he works long hours to support his family and is always looking for ways to supplement his income, which in my book makes him a prince of a man. Don is a prince in his own way, being a genius with semi-divine talents which raise him above the hoi polloi into the same rarefied lifestyle as many a royal. With his gentle demeanor and flawless manners it makes the viewer cringe when violent hands are laid upon him. Yet Don struggles with his own demons, one of which is the demon of alcoholism, which make him a tragic figure in spite of his worldly success. He is also noble in that he chooses to tour the American South in the days of segregation as an effort to break down the barriers of prejudice. Don is of African descent which automatically makes him despised by certain base individuals.

Some critics have panned Green Book as being a "white savior" film, in which a person of European extraction rescues a person of African extraction. However, while Tony rescues Don from racist thugs and ignoramuses, Don instills in Tony a deeper comprehension of honor and beauty as well as the ability to express his devotion to his wife in beautiful letters. Don helps Tony to become a better person. Each man helps the other, which is what true friendship is about.

 The title of the film comes from a popular book for African-Americans who traveled in the days before the Civil Rights movement. According to Vox:
The Green Books were mostly devoted to options for lodging and dining, but they contained other information too. “There were listings for rest stops, restaurants, barber shops, beauty shops,” Liriano says. And in some towns, especially smaller ones, no hotel would offer lodging to black people. For many of those, the Green Book listed “tourist homes,” which Liriano describes as “sort of like a precursor to Airbnb.” Black homeowners, mostly in the South, would rent a room in their home to black travelers looking for somewhere to spend the night. 
That was especially important in so-called “sundown towns,” which passed laws designed to drive black people out of town that prohibited them from being on the road at night. One such town is depicted in Green Book. 
Sundown towns weren’t specifically mentioned in the Green Book. But there were about 10,000 sundown towns in the US as late as the 1960s, and not just in the South: Levittown, New York; Glendale, California; and most Illinois municipalities were among their number. And while it could be dangerous to be on the road at night, it could be equally dangerous to check into the wrong hotel. In an age where you couldn’t just whip out your phone and look up Yelp reviews — and in which you could literally risk your life by being in the wrong part of town with the wrong skin color — you needed a guide. (Read more.)

The film is accurate when it shows the North as being as prejudiced against black people as the South. According to The Atlantic:
Though the film is named for Green’s resource, the titular book appears only a handful of times. In one scene, Tony and Shirley are forced to stay in a decrepit motel after being refused service because the latter is black. The Green Book leads them there, acting as a kind of poverty compass. “It actually only shows places that were kind of dumps, and sort of reduces The Green Book to that, [as though] we only have these terrible places to stay, and that’s not true,” Richen said of the Farrelly film, which she first became aware of after it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last summer. “So that’s disappointing and frustrating.” 
“And then, too, it only showed them using it in the South, which [is] one of the mythologies about segregation. This country wants to say segregation and Jim Crow only happened in the South. It happened all over,” Richen continued. “The Green Book was created by a New Yorker, with listings in New York. [There were] places in Harlem where black people were not allowed to go to. So this was something that was everywhere.” (Read more.)
 The film covers the shocking hardships that Don and Tony encounter on their journey, mostly due to prejudice against Don. There have been criticisms that the film glosses over the sufferings of  blacks in the South due to the Jim Crow laws. But Green Book is based upon the experiences of Don and Tony, mostly from Tony's point of view. It is not a film on the vastness of racism in America. There are other fine films which expose the grim realities of Jim Crow, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Sounder, and many others. Green Book focused on the relationship of a concert pianist and his employee and how a friendship was formed in spite of educational and social differences. I find it inspiring because it portrays in a microcosm the give and take, the sacrifice and forgiveness, that have made America a successful nation. Share

1 comment:

julygirl said...

Rick Steves of PBS travel-log fame was doing a piece on Boston in which he remarked it was one of the most racist cities in America.