6 Reasons Why 'Green Book' Won 3 Oscars and How It's Become So Controversial
The Academy Awards are no stranger to controversies, especially due to their nomination choices. Every year there is a movie that causes a stir among critics and viewers such as ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ and ‘La La Land’. This year’s scandalous motion picture was ‘Green Book’, which won the Best Picture award. Let’s analyze why this odd-couple style comedy has everyone in a twist.
1. THE ACCOLADES
Peter Farrelly from ‘Dumb and Dumber’ directed this film which appeared out of the blue during the 2018 festival season. It quickly moved up in the ranks, becoming a serious contender for awards. It takes place in 1962, and it’s based on a true story. Its title comes from ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’, a guidebook for African-American travelers.
It described all the restaurants and hotels that would not turn black people away and also warned of those places where they might face racism from police or others. The story follows Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen, an Italian-American bouncer who is obviously racist. He became the driver of the African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, as he tours the Deep South.
As they travel around the country, Tony finds kinship in Don, becoming less racist and helping the pianist relax and accept his race. It won the People’s Choice Award at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The reviews were mostly positive except for some critics who did not agree with the depiction of race relations in the film.
Regardless, the accolades kept coming in as the National Board of Review’s Best Film of 2018, the Producers Guild of America for Best Theatrical Motion Picture, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). Mahershala Ali also won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and won three: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
2. THE N-WORD
The scandal began in November 2018 during a panel before a showing of the movie. Viggo Mortensen said the n-word as they were discussing racism in America. The film itself avoided the word altogether. The actor apologized for his words immediately, promising to never use that word again. Ali accepted his apology.
"As has been made public, I spoke the full n-word when referring to the fact that many people casually used it at the time in which our movie story takes place, in 1962. I did not intend to hurt or offend anyone by speaking the word, but immediately realized that I had inevitably done so, and therefore apologized for having pronounced it."
3. INACCURATE DEPICTION
Shortly after Viggo’s scandal, Dr. Shirley’s family accused the film of not portraying the story correctly. They said that Shirley’s relationship with Vallelonga was nothing like that, and he was just an employee of the famous pianist. Vallelonga’s son, Nick, helped write the movie after interviewing the real-life Don and Tony, but the rest of the family was never consulted.
Don’s brother, Maurice, said that the film was a “symphony of lies”, and his nephew, Edwin, complained about the portrayal of Don as someone who was estranged from his family and the Black community. Edwin said that Don had been a civil rights activist and had met Martin Luther King, Nina Simone, and Duke Ellington. They also said that Don and Tony were never friends.
The Shirleys said that Mahershala Ali called them to apologize if the film offended them, claiming that he “did the best [he] could with the material", and that the actor did not know that Don had any living family. After his Golden Globe win, Ali said, "I respect the family, I respect Dr. Shirley and his family and I wish them well.”
"I have a job to do and I have to continue to do my job as I move on to my next project and treat everyone I work with respect. In this case, I didn't know they were around. I made contact and I've spoken to the studio and I have to move on at this point."
4. SHAMEFUL ACTIONS
After the 2019 Golden Globe ceremony, reports surfaced about Farrelly pulling a joke on the cast of his films during the 90s, where he would show them his genitals. "True. I was an idiot," he said in a statement. "I did this decades ago and I thought I was being funny and the truth is I’m embarrassed and it makes me cringe now. I’m deeply sorry."
In regards to Nick Vallelonga, people talked about his old tweet where he supported Donald Trump’s claims about Muslims in Jersey City who celebrated during the 9/11 attacks. The President’s statements have long since been disproven. Despite all these problems, ‘Green Book’ kept amassing awards this season.
“100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news.” The tweet has since been deleted and Nick later released a public apology, especially to the cast of ‘Green Book’ and the members of the Muslim faith such as Ali. “I promise this lesson is not lost on me. Green Book is a story about love, acceptance, and overcoming barriers, and I will do better.”
5. THE PLOT
‘Green Book’ can be compared to films such as ‘The Help’ in terms of depiction of racism in America. Regular viewers will definitely enjoy Ali’s role as Shirley, which could have been awful if another actor had been chosen. Furthermore, he had amazing chemistry with Viggo Mortensen. It’s not surprising that it won the hearts of the people in Toronto.
However, the story is a Hollywood-ized version of the real story – something that has been critiqued countless times. It’s a conservative examination of racism and the “white savior” trope, which has been in many films. Tony learned that racism is wrong, and although not many believe in his transformation, the “balance” aspect was a little odd.
For the sake of storytelling, Tony taught Shirley how to eat fried chicken and listen to black musicians. In the era of ‘Moonlight’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’, and ‘Black Panther’, which portray horrible race relations in modern times, the message ‘Green Book’ gives is just too simple and idealistic.
6. WHY DOES IT KEEP WINNING AWARDS?
Years ago, Oscar consensus was too narrow, and movies that attracted the attention of the Academy had to serve the taste of a certain group of people: old, white and male. That is why films like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and ‘Crash’ became running jokes, as they showed simple perspectives of race relations. Nevertheless, they are still remembered.
In the last couple of years, things have changed. Last year’s Best Picture, Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’, would never have attracted the attention of the Oscars in earlier years. Furthermore, other winners such as Barry Jenkins’s ‘Moonlight’, Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’, and Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ pushed the limits of storytelling.
This is what makes the success of ‘Green Book’ so baffling. It’s the kind of movie that could have won Oscars many years ago, but there is no reason for it these days. Its initial success came from the Toronto International Film Festival, and it has an A+ on CinemaScore, but it has not done well at the box office, earning only $36 million.
Read more: 13 Oscars Cringiest Moments Of All Times
The only real reason for its many accolades is the acting. As mentioned earlier, Mortensen and Ali have undeniable chemistry which fits the “odd couple” aspect of Tony and Don’s story. The actors managed to sell the idea that both characters learned from each other – Tony learned that his assumptions about black people were wrong, and Don learned to loosen up.
Even Farrelly admitted that Don Shirley didn’t need anything from Tony. “Yes, Tony Lip got him out of some earthy problems, but Doc Shirley saved Tony Lip’s soul. He changed him. He made him a better human being.” Ultimately, the film showed Vallelonga’s perspective, and how he changed thanks to the trip.
Read more: Oscars 2019: Hostless Ceremony, The Favorites, Predictions, And Major Questions To Be Answered
Debates and scandals often crop up during Oscar season and Nick Vallelonga’s tweet could serve as a learning opportunity which ‘Green Book’ tried to depict – forgiveness and redemption. However, his comments and subsequent apology also speaks to the concerns of the Shirley family, meaning that Nick has a very narrow view of the world and race relations.
It’s definitely something to think about considering that Mahershala Ali was the first Muslim actor to ever win an Academy Award, and now, he has two. However, disregarding the controversies surrounding the filmmakers, ‘Green Book’ is an enjoyable film, but most people would agree that it’s not the Best Picture of season.
Let us know which film would you have picked for Best Picture. If you liked this article, share it with your friends while watching this year’s Academy Award nominated movies. See you next time!