Green Book has somehow rivalled Bohemian Rhapsody as the most controversial 2019 Best Picture Oscar nominee.
After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, Green Book quickly won the festival’s People’s Choice Award. It followed that up with successes at the Producers Guild Of America and Golden Globes. It was also named one of the best films of 2018 by the National Board Of Review and the American Film Institute.
Why is Green Book so controversial?
They were clearly enamored with Green Book’s somewhat true story of Italian American bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) driving African American musical Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) across the south of the United States during the early 1960s. That’s understandable. As Green Book is funny, propelled by two outstanding performances, and grows and grows to be a bona-fide crowd pleaser.
But, at its core, the film feels dated. Not only have we seen it all before, which is why the film has constantly been compared to Driving Miss Daisy, but once again a film about racial inequality, segregation and bigotry is shown from the perspective of a white man. It was directed by one, too, in the shape of Peter Farrelly, and written by three, Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Nick Vallelonga, the son of Mortensen’s character.
But after excelling at festivals, Green Book was criticised by film journalists when it was finally released. Indiewire wrote that it had a “Magical Negro problem,” insisting Mahersala Ali’s Shirley only exists to “help a white man overcome his problems.” The Root described it as “palatable racism for White People.” While Vulture decreed that Get Out had changed the expectations and standards for films on racism.
The cast and crew then started adding to the issues. Viggo Mortensen used the n-word during a Q&A. Peter Farrelly apologized after it was revealed he had a history of flashing his penis while working. Then an anti-Muslim tweet from Nick Vallelonga reemerged.
Throughout all of this Don Shirley’s family have distanced themselves from Green Book, insisting the musician denied Vallelonga permission to make the film up until his death in April, 2013. They even called it a “symphony of lies.”
As more members of his family revealed their disdain for the film, Mahershala Ali issued an apology, telling Shirley’s nephew Edwin, “If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.”
We’ll find out if all of the above has done enough to derail Green Book’s Oscar bid when the 91st Academy Awards unfolds on February 24.
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