On Thanksgiving Day the wife and I went to see the film "Green Book" – a biopic about the relationship between Black world-class pianist Dr. Don Shirley (in a wonderfully nuanced performance by Mahershala Ali) and his Italian driver and bodyguard Tony Vallelonga (in a hilariously in-your-face portrayal by Viggo Mortensen). They first meet when Dr. Shirley hires Tony to accompany him on a concert tour that will take them through the Deep South in pre-civil rights 1962 America. The title of the film comes from the travel guide called a Green Book that African-Americans relied on to find Black-friendly restaurants, gas stations, entertainment and lodgings in an America where knowing where it was safe to go for food, gas, fun and sleep could mean the difference between a pleasant vacation and a racist nightmare ordeal that could end up costing you your life.
The wife and I both enjoyed the film – very impacting on so many levels because there were so many levels to the film. I encourage everyone to go see it. But I have to say I am dismayed at some of the comments and reviews that basically "talk trash" about certain aspects of the film, like saying it's “White people making a movie about racism for White people,” or complaining that Don Shirley wasn't portrayed correctly or in enough depth.
Firstly, on the racism charge, if you want to reach White audiences with a message they need to hear, the modus operandi of using White people to do that is actually a good thing. Look at Spike Lee's "Black kKklansman" as an example. While undoubtedly an important film that should be widely seen and one masterfully executed by Spike (as usual), how many White people were lining up to see it? Same problem Michael Moore has: their reputations precede them. Point being, you can't get a good message into a person's head if they don't want to listen to the messenger.
As for complaining about the depth (or lack thereof) with regard to historical accuracy or details, I only got one comment for all those nit-pickers and nay-sayers out there: show me what YOU have done to bring America to an awareness of Dr. Don Shirley and his music, and the Green Book that (literally) could mean life or death for African-Americans traveling in pre-civil rights America, especially in the South. Yeah, I thought so. Nada. Zip. At least now there's a movie out there that's going to reach millions of Americans – many of them African-Americans who have never heard of Don Shirley or the Green Book – and I am hoping that whoever sees this engaging film will be enlightened and moved emotionally by what they see in "Green Book."
Medicine is more easily imbibed with a little honey, and "Green Book" is the kind of medicine that a LOT of people need to imbibe, especially in today's Trumpian world where racism is being dog-whistled left and right by the man currently in the White House. Before Trump came on the stage, the Green Book that saved the lives of countless African-Americans was just a historical remnant of a much more intolerant and racist time. What's truly scary is that if things race-wise keep deteriorating, the Green Book may, by necessity, have to make a comeback. We can't allow that to happen. It's bad enough that some people don't understand why "Black Lives Matter" or why Colin Kaepernick and other Black athletes want to take a knee to protest racial injustices. It's even worse when some people don't think there's a problem with racism in America at all.
That's why "Green Book" comes to the fore at a time when the need to face America's past, vis-a-vis race relations, is even more vital to the survival of America as a country and as an ideal. We are not all White. We have never been all White. We are a mixture of people from all over the globe in search of a better life and a chance to live free.
True, many of the people who came here did not do so of their own volition but rather in chains or through the harsh winds of war, famine or economic hardship, but regardless of the misfortune or dire circumstances that brought them to America, some of them and many more of their descendants were first empowered and eventually granted more freedoms and better opportunities by the promise inherent in seven simple words that truly gave birth to America: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
We owe it to our children – White, Black, Brown or whatever shade of skin tone they may be – to ensure that the America our past generations hoped for continues to shine, not just as an ideal, but as an attainable reality of freedom, hope and opportunity. America must fight and strive to be the place where the oppressed can escape religious, political, racial, economic and other forms of persecution. Trump and his minions are herding us down the road to a fascist, authoritarian, apartheid police state that will spell the death of America as we know it.
Think I'm being overly reactionary? Remember: Germany was one of Europe's most highly cultured and civilized nation-states, boasting strong democratic and humanitarian mores and institutions. . . before Hitler came to power. In less than a decade, Hitler and the Nazis destroyed everything good in their country and tried to do the same in the rest of the world. And all along the way, the Nazis had willing enablers and sycophants to oil the wheels of their racist, antisemitic, eugenics-driven machineries of death.
So call me reactionary – it's what happens when you know even a little bit of American and world history and are not feeling at ease or encouraged by current trends. OK, the rant is over. Here's the link to an article on "Green Book." Go see the movie and support the ideal of what America needs to be and, God-willing (and people-willing), can be.