After years of slowly diversifying the Academy, “Green Book” seems to be the pick of the remaining faction of old white men. The film is “based on true events” in the story of an acclaimed black musician’s tour through the Deep South with a racist white driver who changes his attitude toward race during the journey.
I’ll offer praise where I can: This film had phenomenal performances from Mahershala Ali, who played Dr. Don Shirley, and Viggo Mortensen, who portrayed Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. It also had absolutely stunning cinematography.
My criticisms have one overarching theme. Dr. Don Shirley, the complicated, famous musician, should have been the protagonist. Shirley remains an enigma throughout the story with only hints of his mysterious life. His ambitious sexuality, intense loneliness in living between racial cultures, and his backstory only make flighting appearances.
Moreover, after the movie’s release, Shirley’s family came out with accusations that this was an inaccurate portrayal of the man they knew and loved. His nephew, Edwin Shirley III, and brother Maurice Shirley, said the film twisted truths and manipulated a cordial work relationship into a touching friendship.
This film was co-written and co-produced by the driver’s son, Nick Vallelonga. It’s not difficult to imagine that his father was deeply affected by this trip and explained these tales to his son in a more romantic light than that of reality.
However, the film’s focus on Vallelonga’s evolution rather than Shirley’s misses a lot of potential salience for the story. Moreover, Tony’s “teaching” moments wherein he describes parts of African American culture to the highly educated black man are particularly grating — especially when he claims to be “more black.”
Overall, it’s a beautiful movie with wonderful acting. The story had true potential, but was centered entirely under the wrong framework. If this film wins, it will be another step back for the Oscars on their tumultuous road to inclusion.