Every year I attend an Oscar party with friends and we have a betting pool to pick the winners. Even though most of the pundits predicted “Roma,” “Roma,” “Roma,” I knew in my gut it would not win Best Picture. I checked off “Green Book,” because it was my favorite film of 2018.
And I was right!
It was the surprise winner that year. Don’t ask me about the other nominations because I pretty much blew the rest of them.
People have complained that Green Book is just another film about a white person saving a black person. I don’t see it that way at all. It’s the true story of Tony Lip, who was as racist as Archie Bunker. After being hired to drive black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, on tour through the deep South, he realized that Shirley was not only blessed with amazing talent but was a beautiful human being as well. They grew to be friends and stayed that way until Shirley’s death. Tony Lip went on to appear as an actor in The Sopranos.
Dr. Shirley had two major things going against him going into the deep South during that time. He was black and gay. If his driver had been black, they both would have been beaten up or even lynched.
You had to have experienced it to appreciate the story
Baby Boomers are old enough to remember what happened in the South during the sixties. I grew up in a fairly affluent white neighborhood in Orange County and certainly didn’t experience it firsthand. But, I remember being shocked to see newspaper stories with images of “colored only” bathrooms and blacks getting kicked out of coffee shops or being lynched.
Take it from these people who lived it
I was thrilled to watch Congressman John Lewis do the introduction for Green Book at the Academy Awards. He said:
“I can bear witness that the portrait of that time and place in our history is very real. It is seared in my memory.”
A black friend of mine on Facebook (a Baby Boomer) commented about Lewis:
“And he’s got a steel plate in his head to prove it fighting for the rights of all to be able to pump gas and stay in a hotel anywhere in this country.”
Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte, artists who had similar experiences, weighed in.
My wife Pamela and I just finished watching Green Book and although I don’t usually do this, I am compelled to drop this note to thank the filmmakers for having made this film for us all to see. I knew Don Shirley, and, in fact, had an office across the street from his at Carnegie Hall, and I experienced much of what he did at the same time. This movie is accurate, it is true, and it’s a wonderful movie that everyone should see.
The few people who appear to be objecting to the film’s depiction of the time and the man are dead wrong, and, if the basis of their resentment stems from it having been written and/or directed by someone who isn’t African American, I disagree with them even more. There are many perspectives from which to tell the same story and all can be true.
I personally thank the filmmakers for having told this important story from a very different lens, one no less compelling than any other.
So again, I say to the filmmakers, thank you, and congratulations.
“I had the pleasure of being acquainted with Don Shirley while I was working as an arranger in New York in the 50’s and he was without question one of America’s greatest pianists…as skilled a musician as Leonard Bernstein or Van Cliburn. So, it’s wonderful that his story is finally being told and celebrated. I did that “chitlin’ circuit” tour through the south when I was with the Lionel Hampton band, and let me tell you…it was no picnic. And we were a band.”
Quincy continued: “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do it alone with just a driver. So Peter, thank you for telling this story of our country’s not so distant history and capturing on film the ties that can bind us when we spend time listening, talking and living with one another. “Green Book” is a truly special film about friendship and the power of music to bring people together. Mahershala, you did an absolutely fantastic job playing him, and I think yours and Viggo’s performances will go down as one of the great friendships captured on film.”
History is what we learn from
I was also moved by BlackkKlansman, which I wrote about in a previous post. Both films portray real-life history is thought-provoking and enlightening ways. People often voice uninformed and slanted opinions without taking into account the history and reality of the situation. In this case, many complainers were born after Martin Luther King was assassinated and LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A side note:
My 2nd cousin, Arthur Kinoy was a well-known civil rights lawyer and Rutger’s University Law Professor. In 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, he participated in a conference sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild’s Committee for Legal Assistance in the South. It briefed attorneys on legal problems confronting civil rights demonstrators in Mississippi, where state and local governments resisted change.
He and his partner, William Kunstler, were two of the most prominent attorneys during the 1960s to handle civil rights cases in the South. He was also Kunstler’s partner when they defended the Chicago Seven.
Watch the trailer
Did you see Green Book? What was your favorite Best Picture and why? Please leave a comment below.