The harsh whispers of racism come alive in the “Green Book.” The often-portrayed African-American individual as a slave, maid, gangster or background sidekick alters with the white male’s position of hero, star or beloved character. The scene is 1960s America, but the characters are not slave and master. Rather the African-American man, Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, is the rich pianist with Tony Lip, played by Viggo Mortensen, as his white Italian driver.
The racial divide is portrayed away from the expected Southern segregation as Tony and certain family members show fear and disgust toward African-American workers in New York City. Racism pervades throughout the movie. Tony never remains quiet in the car, often spewing his negative opinions of African-Americans, neglecting to recognize the respect that Dr. Shirley deserves as his boss and as a human. He shows the too-often held racist beliefs in despicable ways that are perceived as relatively accepted comments. But what of his love for his family and commitment to his work?
Dr. Shirley is the intellectual man with more money and education than Tony. He speaks with dignity of values, including not stealing and facing opposition with courage. As they travel, he shares honestly with Tony about the wide range of experiences of African-Americans and their prescribed inferior place in society. He also notes his failed familial relationships.
The movie also highlights structural racism in America, from hotels to YMCAs, restaurants and law enforcement officials. The power of state governments and their laws negatively influenced certain groups of individuals, notably African-American communities with Jim Crow laws. Because of these abuses, African-Americans during segregation needed to know where they were allowed, according to the Smithsonian. Thus, “The Negro Motorist Green-Book” was written by Victor Hugo Green with a focus on the New York area and then the United States as a whole.
“Green Book” is anything but a relaxing weekend movie, but is a much needed breath of fresh, honest air. This is not just a movie about history. Racist comments and structural frameworks have not disappeared today — rather, they can still disgustingly be seen. The movie needs to be watched, addressed and talked about, and, as someone once told me, requires sitting in the uncomfortability of what you are feeling, seeing or hearing.
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