The Golden Globes achieved something I thought I wouldn’t see in my lifetime. My parents never dared to believe their kids would get to see this day. My grandparents fought for this day. My children will remember this day in history. Sunday, January 6th, 2019 was the day that racism ended. I know, I know. It seems too good to be true, but it turns out we were missing one simple piece of advice this whole time:
“All we have to do is talk.”
OH. Right. Here I was thinking racism is a systemic issue rooted in white supremacy and embedded into the fibre of America. This whole time all black and white people had to do was TALK. Boy, am I glad Peter Farrelly, director of Green Book and middle-aged white man, was there to swoop in and save the world. Have you picked up on my sarcasm yet or should I keep going? To be fair to Peter Farrelly, Eradicator of Racism, here’s the full context of the above quote he gave during his acceptance speech for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
“This story gave me hope and I wanted to share that hope with you … This movie is for everybody. If Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga could find common ground, we all can. All we have to do is talk and to not judge people by their differences, but to look for what we have in common.”
Cue the audible groans. Sure, what Peter Farrelly is saying here is nice, I guess, but it’s also woefully missing the point. It’s naïve, dangerous, and seeped in privilege for this guy to use a platform as big as the Golden Globes to condescendingly preach that the “dividing times” that we’re living in are a result of people not talking enough. It whittles down a massive, systemic problem that costs black people their lives to a tale with a simple solution. This speech sounds like what a fake-woke white teacher would say in a PG TV movie about his journey to the inner city to save a bunch a black kids from themselves, Dangerous Minds meets The Blind Side.
The Blind Side hasn’t aged well but it will be forever known for its standout performance. It gave Sandra Bullock her first Oscar. Green Book could give Mahershala Ali his second. But does it look like he still wants it? Mahershala Ali did not break a smile during Peter Farrelly’s speech until he was joined by his co-star Viggo Mortenssen (who literally said the n-word in an interview two months ago but no one seems to remember that). Viggo and Mahershala play the two men who found “common ground” despite “their differences.” Mahershala plays Don Shirley, a world-class pianist on tour and Viggo plays Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, Shirley’s driver. Green Book is supposedly the real story between these two men who became friends despite THEIR DIFFERENCES during segregation in the Deep South, except the Shirley family has rejected the filmmakers’ version of events. Mahershala apologized to members of Don Shirley’s family and if we’re going off of his lackluster speech, or his general body language, he’s not thrilled he’s being rewarded for playing a role that might not be true to its subject.
He was asked about the controversy backstage after accepting his award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy and giving a tempered speech.
Mahershala Ali on the Shirley family taking issue with #GreenBook: “I have to look at what I’m responsible for doing. I’m not one to throw all of [my hard work] away for things I don’t have control over... I have a job to do and I have to continue to do it.“ pic.twitter.com/Pay7pwDWUy— Bryn Elise Sandberg (@brynsandberg) January 7, 2019
That sounds a bit like his way of saying, “I’m just here because I have to be,” no? I get it. Mahershala Ali is in a tough spot. It’s not his fault Green Book may be historically inaccurate. He shouldn’t be the only one answering these questions and shouldering the blame for a movie that seems to gloss over racism and provide a watered-down, palatable-for-the-Trump-crowd view of racism during segregation. The blame lies squarely with the filmmakers. Speaking of, HOW is Octavia Spencer an executive producer of this movie? Somebody ask Octavia to tell us how she let this happen. For now, screenwriters Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and writer/director Peter Farrelly should be the ones apologizing or explaining themselves.
Instead Peter Farrelly stood on the Golden Globes stage and yelled at the orchestra to stop playing because he had a self-righteous speech about racism to deliver. He was trying to create his own mic-drop moment. “SHHHHH I’M ABOUT TO END RACISM EVERYONE LISTEN.” Peter Farrelly’s speech is exactly why racism still exists in such systemic and concrete ways, because privileged white people upholding white supremacy ignore actual problems and drop platitudes like “let’s just talk!” to make themselves feel better about contributing to the oppression of black and brown people.
I’m sure Peter Farrelly feels like he did a good thing by giving that speech. I’m sure he thinks he changed some lives. I’m sure he thinks that he did his part to rid the world of prejudice, and that’s exactly why Green Book is as problematic as critics have pegged it to be.
So, do we think Mahershali is feeling conflicted about all the love he’s getting? I wonder if he keeps the same ‘please don’t say Green Book’ energy for the rest of awards season.