Countdown to the Oscars: Green Book

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Our last review of this countdown to today's ceremony. These are some notes about Green Book

Countdown to the Oscars: Green Book

Green Book is one of the films nominated for Best Film at the Academy Awards. Its two protagonists, Mahershala Ali and Vigo Mortensen, are nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor respectively. The film, in addition, counts on other two nominations: Better original script and Better assembly. It is one of the favorites for the highest award and complies with the style, theme, and tone of the films that the Academy has awarded in recent years.

Leer en español: Cuenta regresiva para los Óscar: Green Book


"Amigos sin fronteras" (Friends without borders)

This is how the title of the film has been translated into Spanish. The original title, in English, refers to the green book that served as a guide to finding out where in the south of the United States a black man could pass the night. So from the beginning we know that the film will revolve around a racial problem. The title in Spanish, however, refers to the friendship that the two main characters will forge and how it will transcend racial boundaries.

Green Book, then, tells the story of how a polite black pianist befriends his driver, a working-class Italian-American living in the Bronx. Both must spend two months together traveling in the deep south of the United States, where Jim Crow laws function, which promoted racial segregation in public institutions. That's why Tony, the driver, had to go through the green book to find out where his boss could stay during his musical tour.

When they have not yet gone on tour, we see Tony with his family, we see what his daily life is like, and we realize that he is racist. Thus, at first, the film seems to be the story of how a white man abandons his prejudices at the time he befriends a black man. And although it is about this, the film does not stop there. At the beginning of the trip, we also see that Doc himself, the pianist, also has prejudices. He is a black man who seems to deny a lot his blackness: he does not listen to Aretha Franklin or Lil Richard, whom Tony, his driver, hears and admires. Doc also tries to "clean up" the figure of his friend Tony: he asks him to speak more elegantly and more properly, to not eat with his hands and to not swear.

As they get deeper into the south of the United States, Doc faces increasingly more uncomfortable situations: he can not use the same bathroom as white men or try on expensive costumes in clothing stores. Faced with these situations, which draw Tony's wrath, Doc retires with dignity, never fights or contradicts those who discriminate against him. Even so, at the same time that Tony abandons his prejudices and learns to defend his friend, we see that the Italian has also influenced in a certain way his boss, who ends up eating fried chicken and demanding a decent treatment when he must demand it. For this reason, the title of the film in Spanish is wrong: the friendship between the two characters does have borders, as it is mediated not only by an employment contract but by an undeniable racial barrier. In fact, friendship becomes possible when both are aware of that boundary between them and decide to cross it and assume it as a bridge between them.

Read also: Countdown to the Oscars: Roma


Being black in the sixties

Seeing how much Doc cares what others say, Tony claims to his boss that he is 'blacker', because he eats fried chicken, lives in the Bronx, works hard to live and listens to the music of 'his people'. This claim comes after realizing that Doc seems ashamed of his blackness. Before this, Doc affirms that he is neither black enough nor white enough and asks his friend 'then what am I?' And here we see what really bothers Doc: that there is only one way to be black. The stereotype bothers him, it bothers him not to be a man who listens to and plays classical music just because of his skin color. This is what segregation does: divide people in two and homogenize them. There is no place for different identities.

As Tony realizes this, Doc agrees to play rock n 'roll at a roadside bar. He assumes, at last, his identity. Then, he realizes that he can play classical music just as he can take pride in R & B. In this way, the trip in the film is the vehicle in which, on the one hand, Tony moves from his position as a hard-working white man and abandons his prejudices and, on the other, Doc assumes his identity, he finds himself. All this happens while the two friends make jokes and have tender gestures with each other.

However, the film always stays in a safe and comfortable place. Although in the end we see a rebellious gesture on the part of Doc, we never really see him let out his anger or lose his elegance and his so protected and clean dignity. A very different tone from the one we see in BlacKkKlansman, also nominated for Best Film, or even in Black Panther, in which we see the black man (and also the black woman, completely omitted in this film without interesting female characters) tired of centuries of oppression and being an agent of change. Green Book does not bother the spectator or face any reality, it is a touching comedy about the power of friendship, different from the other two nominees, who in their respective epilogues remind us that even today we live in times of racism and terror. As correct and proper as its main character, it would not be surprising if this is the one that takes the Oscar.

Read also: Oscar Awards: talking about racism in imagined times


LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez

Translated from "Cuenta regresiva para los Óscar: Green Book"