‘Green Book’ Overcomes Controversy

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Viggo Mortensen (left) plays Mahershala Ali’s driver as their characters travel through the segregated Deep South in 1962. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Michelle Garza

Spring Valley, N.Y.

I went into “Green Book” expecting nothing substantial. While it may have won three Oscars, I was considerably skeptical.

I had closely read the derisive reviews and followed the controversy. The public was not pleased with a film having a white savior complex becoming a three-Oscar winner.

I went into the film with preconceived notions and biases. Nevertheless, I found myself captivated by the development of a complementary relationship between characters who expressed conflicting mentalities.

Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, “Green Book” tells the story of Dr. Donald Shirley, an African American pianist embarking on a Deep South tour. Integration had not yet spread to that region, and he needed a driver for protection.

He hires Tony Lip, an Italian- American cliche who previously worked as a bouncer. The storytelling shone through from the very beginning. At first, I saw the criticisms, with Lip’s racism obvious from the get-go. Great, another racist-that-getsbetter story, I told myself.

However, Shirley’s appearance forced me to give the movie a second look. His grandiose apartment above Carnegie Hall makes him reminiscent of a king. Actor Mahershala Ali projects a royal image. On the other hand, Lip evidently hails from a humble upbringing and his wardrobe is mostly tattered wife-beaters.

The appeal of “Green Book” is rooted in the film’s use of its greatest asset: the uber-talented leads, Viggo Mortensen and Ali. It was a heartwarming experience for me to witness the unexpected friendship develop between their characters. It is their differences that bring them together.

Lip helps Shirley become less wary of new experiences, such as eating a piece of KFC fried chicken. In turn, Shirley helps Lip properly express his feelings for his wife in love letters. Moreover, the storytelling challenged my preconceived notion of Tony being a “white savior.” He is not by any means a savior. Shirley does not need “saving.” Rather, he needs companionship that a genuine person like Lip can provide him with.

The movie is littered with references to Shirley’s loneliness and struggles with alcohol. Despite living in what Lip describes as a “castle,” he lives alone and realized this when Lip invites him to Christmas dinner with his family, solidifying their bond.

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