It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. Awards season has been preparing us for the inevitable: Green Book as the 2019 Best Picture winner. America, and its almost comically disrespectful Black History Month of bad news, has been preparing us for this too. Since it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, Green Book has had a shot at becoming one of those Best Picture winners that is looked back on with disdain and bewilderment, like Crash or Driving Miss Daisy. You’d think the Academy would learn from its mistakes but nope, here we are.
What Crash and Driving Miss Daisy have in common with Green Book is an utterly rudimentary portrayal of race relations in America – a safe, comfortable, feel-good approach that is told from the point of view of white people. They are remembered with contempt because they arguably did more harm than good in combating the very problems the films pride themselves on tackling. But, you know, they leave certain people (read: older, white) feeling good about themselves and the state of their country so that’s all that matters. It matters more than Dr. Shirley’s life and legacy. And it matters more than the films that actually give a hard look at the racist past and present of America (BlackKklansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther) that do deserve accolades whether they were nominated in the category or not.
Green Book’s win pisses me off for a lot of reasons – some I’ve listed above and some I’ve been writing about all season but the biggest one is the simplest: THERE WERE SO MANY BETTER MOVIES. If you wanted a movie about racists in America, BlackKklansman was RIGHT THERE. I’m not trying to knock you (too hard) if you liked Green Book, or if it made you feel nice inside. But maybe it’s time to question if a movie about racism in the deep south during segregation – especially when racism is so glaringly still alive and well in America – is supposed to leave you with the warm and fuzzies, instead of hard, uncomfortable truths.
As Justin Chang for The LA Times put it, “Green Book,” whether you like it or not, does not have a particularly high regard for your intelligence… “Green Book” is an embarrassment; the film industry’s unquestioning embrace of it is another.”
The “unquestioning embrace” of Green Book is embarrassing because of its weak storytelling (by white men) but also because of how bumpy its road to Oscar has been. Viggo Mortensen said the N word, and had to apologize, during a panel in November. Director/writer Peter Farrelly was exposed for exposing himself to cast and crew on set. He also had to apologize. Then, there was the fact that the movie is full of careless inconsistencies that Dr. Don Shirley’s family called out and Mahershala Ali had to apologize for. How the f-ck did THIS movie survive all of that backlash? Sounds about white.
Green Book’s win is even more offensive to me because of how much it detracts from Mahershala Ali’s second Oscar win. The movie hinges on Mahershala’s talent and it is truly a great performance and yet, when Peter Farelly was accepting his Oscar for Best Picture, he chose to center, ONCE AGAIN, the white man in this story.
“This doesn’t start, by the way, without Viggo Mortensen. All these awards are because Viggo.” A pause. “And Mahershala and Linda, but it started with Viggo.”
Actually, it started with Victor Hugo Green, who created the Green Book, a travel guide for black people traveling through America in the South noting which businesses would serve them. That’s what the movie’s name is based on. I understand that Peter Farrelly was talking about Viggo using his star power to get the movie made but this omission is the kind of slip that makes it even more understandable why Green Book turned out how it did.
As Lainey pointed out, Mahershala has a Midas touch – the movies he wins an Oscar for end up winning Best Picture. He’s done it twice: Moonlight and now Green Book. Once again, Mahershala gave a speech that was tepid while still being respectful. He was the only person in the cast and crew of Green Book to say Dr. Don Shirley’s name. Mahershala has done his best this whole season to respect Dr. Shirley’s legacy, something the filmmakers didn’t do.
Green Book tried to rewrite history, and in embracing the film, the Academy is trying to do the same. The most blatant display of this was when they had civil rights hero John Lewis introduce the film. THE CAUCACITY. Here’s what John Lewis said in part about Green Book:
"I can bear witness that the portrait of that time and place in our history is very real. It is seared in my memory. Black men and women, our brothers and sisters, treated as second-class citizens. Threatened for raising their family or earning a living. Beaten, and sometimes killed, for the crime of trying to live a life with dignity. … Our nation bears the scars of that time, as do I.”
Sorry, what movie was he introducing? The Academy’s choice to put John Lewis up there, saying these specific words that are so in contrast to what Green Book is, made me officially lose hope that Green Book wasn’t going to win. They were doing damage control already. How can we hate on a film that John Lewis introduced in this way? Well, as John said, America still “bears the scars” of its racist past and those scars are just deepened by whitewashing its reality or deluding its heinousness, something the current administration knows a lot about.
Green Book is the Oscars’ worst Best Picture winner, but you could argue it’s exactly the movie America deserves.