Green Book took the Best Picture Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards, marring an otherwise pleasant #OscarsSoBlack evening in which our films and fashions took home some significant and historical awards. (It was fun returning to Wakanda on a chilly Sunday night.) While I actually enjoyed Green Book for reasons that people conventionally enjoy movies (stellar acting, compelling narrative), I recognize why the win has lots of Black folks legitimately pissed off.
1. White savior dynamics. Again.
Green Book is based on the real-life interactions between accomplished Black pianist Donald Shirley and his white driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga when the latter drove the former through the deep south for Shirley’s 1962 concert tour. While not as egregious as the spate of films that came out around the turn of this century depicting pretty white people “saving the lives” of downtrodden Black kids, it’s easy to bristle at Green Book’s “You can’t do this without me” depiction of Vallelonga and Shirley’s relationship, especially when its veracity is in question. Which leads me to:
2. Shirley’s family isn’t feeling the movie
Vallelonga’s son Nick, depicted as a child in the film, co-wrote Green Book’s screenplay. But Shirley’s family has publicly taken umbrage with the pianist’s depiction in the film: they challenge key scenes and dynamics, including Shirley’s estranged relationship with his brother that wasn’t actually estranged and the actual friendship between Vallelonga and Shirley that apparently did not actually exist. There’s also the fact that Shirley, who died in 2013, didn’t even want the film to be made. If Shirley’s family is telling the truth about it all, Green Book should be bounced squarely in the “fiction” category.
3. On-stage thank-yous needed mad work
Director Peter Farrelly seemed to go in the wrong damn direction every time he hit the stage to accept an award for the film. During the final win, he heaped a lot of praise on actor Viggo Mortensen, who plays Vallelonga, as the reason the film was made. It felt jarring considering Mahershala Ali’s Shirley is the beating heart of the film, though he was reduced to “…and Mahershala too.”
Sooo..the black actor wins best supporting actor for #greenbook but yet when the film wins best picture, the old white men that made the film thank the WHITE ACTOR for “being the reason they won”…woww. #oscars #ados #TheOscars pic.twitter.com/5TZnlyAuGM
— The Black Child (@blackchildlives) February 25, 2019
4. How about the actual Green Book?
Also, no one accepting awards bothered to talk about the actual Green Book, which helped Black folks traveling through the Jim Crow South avoid business and hotels that could’ve gotten them killed. The movie itself didn’t even explore it…it’s as if the filmmakers just needed a catchy plot device, particulars be damned.
For anyone who may be interested in what the Green Book actually was, here is a link to more information about this act of resistance and source of love and survival for many African-Americans. It started with Victor Hugo Green. #OSCARS https://t.co/gdFp1mekub pic.twitter.com/9WkeInv2fd
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 25, 2019
5. Spike Lee got played again
Spike Lee finally nabbed his first Oscar – for Best Adapted Screenplay – after more than three decades of filmmaking in Hollywood. However, Lee’s BlackKkKlansman lost out to Best Picture to Green Book exactly 30 years after his magnum opus, Do The Right Thing, lost to Driving Miss Daisy, which happens to be yet another film with white savior dynamics that involve keeping us all stuck in a vehicle in the deep south. Lee was dressed like someone’s Prince-loving auntie for the ceremony and like said auntie, he let everyone know how he felt about Green Book’s win in no uncertain terms.
6. Who is saving Detroit?!?
When Farrelly accepted the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Green Book, his speech was just fine until he looked at his watch and had the presence of mind to utter, “Shinola watches. Unbelievable, they’re saving Detroit.” The luxury watch brand has been derided by many Detroiters as the face of the city’s gentrification, but any suggestion that it’s singlehandedly “saving” a major metropolitan U.S. city is so absurd that the company itself got in front of it. Way to double down on the whole white savior thing, Petey Baby.
7. Does this Oscar sh*t really matter anyway?
As much as we love watching the Oscars and like to take the award seriously as an arbiter of a movie’s quality or importance, the whole thing is so arbitrary that it shouldn’t dictate how you watch films or serve as any reasonable means of gauging quality. If anything the Oscar might be an indication of who has the best PR team. Need further proof…? Look no further than Exhibits A, B, and C:
— Dan Amira (@DanAmira) February 25, 2019
Someday they’re gonna make a movie about the PR team for “The Green Book”, and it’ll probably win an Oscar. pic.twitter.com/K9SHR9WH8g
— Friginator (@Friginator) February 25, 2019
here’s the email I received about Green Book from one of the producers. I censored the name of the editor he cc’d, which I guess was supposed to be a power move? anyone who has received something similar, feel free to reach out. pic.twitter.com/LIiV4CEp3Z
— Jenni Miller (@msjennimiller) February 25, 2019
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.