A O Scott got it wrong. He’s the NY Times Film Critic, one of my trusted sources. Scott spent half a page telling us what’s wrong with this dazzling new film, the Green Book and devoted a bare nod at the end to the superb acting of the the main characters.
The film is based on the true story of the jazz pianist Don Shirley’s road trip through the Jim Crow South in 1962. “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” published between 1936 and 1967, served as a guide for black travelers across North America to find which businesses, motels and towns would welcome them in a segregated United States. (Kaitlyn Greenidge, NY Times Style Magazine). The driver of the car on this road trip is “Tony,” consummately played by Viggo Mortensen, and the passenger is pianist and composer, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali)
The Green Book is indeed, as Scott describes it, “a tale of interracial male friendship,” but it is so much more.” Scott chalks the movie off as a “sentimental tale of prejudices overcome and common humanity affirmed.” He implies the theme is cliche’d and overdone. I believe the filmmaker revisits important social issues and shows “familiar” scenes which depict those issues.
The reviewer makes one point I agree with. There is a risk that people will see the film and comfort themselves into thinking everything’s okay now. Of course, everything today is not okay. Perhaps the film does invite a measure of self-congratulation about how far as a nation we’ve come, but let’s acknowledge and congratulate ourselves on the strides we have made, knowing, of course, we need to do so much more.
My husband, our friend and I were riveted. We couldn’t help but draw certain comparisons with events today. The film is an evocative and stirring glimpse of life, attitudes, social structures, and the elephant in the room, white supremacy in the South of the United States, in the early 60s. As someone who remembers that time, I had the good fortune-or perhaps misfortune-of being shielded, growing up in a more pluralistic part of the US, the Northwest, and attending mostly white schools. As the years went by, with the advent of better communication and availability of information, I became more acutely aware of the attitudes, bigotry, injustice and racial violence in the South. I was appalled. I continue to be appalled and believe that any film that raises awareness so artfully should be applauded.
I think the film invites us to peer back through a lens to the 20th century, to see and remind ourselves about a time of overt and tacitly accepted racial bigotry and violence. After all, how many millenials and school kids now have been introduced to the social climate of the not so distant past?
And BTW, the ode to fried chicken (Scott calls it a subplot), portrayed in elaborate detail, is an absolute screaming hoot. And, I really don’t even like Kentucky fried chicken.
Speak From Your Heart and Be Heard: Stories of Courage and Healing is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle and some independent bookstores.