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Was “Green Book” the Wrong Decision for the Oscars Best Picture Award?

by Carrie Boike

February 25, 2019 – In the last few years, Hollywood’s award season has become increasingly politicized. From the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, and the #MeToo movement, viewers are eager to criticize nominees, winners and the Academy. This year is no exception, with “Green Book,” one of this year’s biggest winners, taking the heat.

For those who are wondering why a film that examines race relations in the 1960s deep south is viewed as a step backwards rather than a revolutionary we-solved-racism film by its critics, let me explain.

Although “Green Book” has been widely praised by the Academy, there has been an ongoing dialogue pointing out the film’s use of the white savior trope. The premise is that Mahershala Ali’s character, acclaimed pianist Dr. Donald Shirley, hired Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian American bouncer portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, to accompany him on his tour through the Jim Crow South.

Shirley continuously runs into trouble with racist southerners and is saved by Vallelonga time after time. Vallelonga is undoubtedly a disgusting racist at the start of the movie, but along the way Shirley teaches him not to steal things and… that littering is bad? And, he kind of learns that black people deserve to be treated as human beings.

“Green Book” is the type of movie designed to teach white people about racism through the eyes of a likable racist who your white grandparents will probably find endearing. Vallelonga becomes Shirley’s defender, but his racism is never verbally confronted. We’re just supposed to love him because he’s like, so charismatic and relatable. Sigh.

There are some touching moments where Shirley and Vallelonga seem to form a genuine connection and have some no-nonsense discussions about race, but Shirley’s family has publicly stated that this portrayal is inaccurate. According to the family, the filmmakers did not consult them about the movie, and said that the relationship between Shirley and Vallelonga was misrepresented.

To add to the controversy, Viggo Mortensen was criticised for his use of the N-word in a Q&A discussion in November, arguably exposing the lack of understanding of race that this movie consistently demonstrates.

So when Julia Roberts announced that “Green Book” beat out films like “BlacKkKlansman” “Roma” and ” Black Panther” there were some telling reactions. Spike Lee attempted to storm out of the auditorium, and Chadwick Boseman was sighted doing a side eye that really says it all.

During the acceptance speech, Mortensen is praised above all others, and Dr. Shirley’s name is not even mentioned. While Ali is a phenomenal actor and surely had the best of intentions in his portrayal of Shirley, his performance was overshadowed by a group of filmmakers who came off as out of touch with the current socio-political climate.

Maybe stories that address race should be told by those who have an experiential understanding of the topic, and not by liberal white people desiring to appear woke and see an opportunity for Oscar-bait.

I’ll leave you with a tweet from the Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr., who’s elegant way with words says more about this topic than I ever could.

And that, as they say, is the tea.

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