To think that people are still being oppressed and discriminated against purely because they possess a substantial amount of melanin or are sexually attracted to the same sex is ludicrous. This sort of ignorance is still confusing to me. When that ignorance is coupled with violence and inhumane treatment, it then down-right angers me.
Green Book is a drama-comedy movie that was inspired by a true story that took place in New York City in 1962. Directed by Peter Farrelly, it takes us back to a time of great prejudice, where segregation was a way of life. Chronicling a brief period of time of Dr Shirley, an African American world-renowned pianist and composer who, of his own accord, decides to go on a concert tour to The Deep South. He decides to employ Tony Lip as his chauffeur/ bodyguard who needs to make sure he finishes his tour at their last venue in Birmingham, Alabama. To better aid his driver manoeuvre him around the deep south with as little trouble as possible, he is handed the Green Book – The Negro Motorist Green Book to be exact. This was an actual handbook that dictated which hotels and motels African’s living in America could go to for when travelling while Black.
It would be natural for one to assume that the protagonist of this film is Dr Shirley played by Mahershala Ali. With the name of the movie being based on a guide on how African Americans needed to journey around the country. Particularly when the African American in question that needs to be steered – in one of the most volatile places on Earth for anyone possessing a significant amount of melanin – is, in fact, an academic who was the first African to be accepted at the prestigious Leningrad Conservatory of Music. Having friends in high places such as the Kennedys and possessing two honorary degrees, no one would fault you for thinking that Green Book is about the African man who seemingly knows everything, has it all, and for the most part given the period time, even has the respect of everyone in the upper echelons of society.
But no. His story is watered down and overpowered by that of Frank Anthony Vallelonga Sr. (better known as Tony Lip) played by Viggo Mortensen. The hot-tempered Italian’s story is one that is complete with a beginning, middle and an end. For all intents and purposes, Tony Lip is a regular joe. A family man who has odd jobs here and there and is just working to feed, clothe and shelter his family.
Green Book is beautifully shot with its muted colours. With some scenes being shot using the rule of thirds, it really balances and aligns the picture well. In the scenes where the rule of thirds is applied, you will notice that Dr Shirely’s narrative is playing second fiddle. From how he is for the most part behind him. We also only get to learn of Dr Shirley’s incidences like they are dirty little secrets after Tony Lip has been called to the rescue. This is definitely more of Tony’s story than that of Dr Shirely.
Being such a complex person who had so many layers, my soul yearns to know more and delve deeper into the life and thoughts of Dr Shirley. We are unfortunately only given breadcrumbs that lead us nowhere to his past and present life. Mahershala Ali portrays Dr Shirley in the most regal, yet soft and sensitive of ways. With gentle gestures and him talking much in some scenes, he still manages to give us raw emotion. What is he thinking? What happened to him? How did he grow up? These are the questions you need to be ready to ask yourself.
A man who without a doubt suffers from a lot of internal conflicts, Dr Shirely does not know who he is. He is too educated and boujee to be accepted by his fellow Africans, yet he is too dark-skinned to be accepted by Caucasians. On top of that, he is a gay African man in the 1960s whose IQ is much more substantial than his EQ. Estranged from his wife and having lost all contact with his brother, it is safe to say that Dr Shirley had a lot of inner turmoil. How much you may ask? So much so that he drank a whole bottle of alcohol. Alone. Every night.
I would have liked to have seen the story behind the intellectual artist. A narrative with a solid backstory, middle and conclusion. Dr Shirely had more than his fair share of layers that I was dying to have them peeled back.
Alas, Green Book highlights a lot of what I already knew and so wished the rest of humanity would catch up and know it too. Racism and homophobia are ignorantly dangerous and frivolous. That two people from completely different worlds can have the most in common, while those being in the same community can be the opposite of each other.
Trying to cage a person based on their sexual orientation, amount of melanin they possess or their social rank is… stupid. Fcuk it I said it.
The sooner people realise that people are just that – people, then the better we can live in a peaceful world.
With 5 nominations at the Academy Awards and Mahershala Ali has already won the Best Supporting Actor award at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards for his role as Dr Shirley; Green Book is thought-provoking and calls for introspection from its audience. African, Caucasian, Indian, Latino, etc. We all need to watch this movie at least once.
Catch it at your nearest Ster-Kinekor cinema as it releases on the 14th of February 2019. For an extra treat this Valentine’s Day, be sure to watch it in their Prestige cinema.