Disclaimer: This is going to be a long, long rant. My soapbox has been checked for its sturdiness and I am perched upon it and ready to go.
It is an absolute joke that Green Book won Best Picture last night and the Academy should be embarrassed. By choosing to reward a film that has come under such scrutiny for its message, presentation, and accuracy the Academy is making an incredibly troubling statement that diversity and truth don’t matter. It’s clear that what is most important to them is making a bunch of 60-year-old white men feel less guilty and more warm inside.
The saddest thing is I knew this was going to happen. Roma is by far the best film to come out in the past year. It is a cinematic masterpiece. Incredibly well acted, beautifully shot, and so damn touching and meaningful. It is an incredible glimpse into the class struggle in Mexico and the most moving film of the year.
It had zero chance at winning Best Picture.
Why? One word: Netflix. There has been a large contingent of filmmakers, led by Steven Spielberg, that believe Netflix is not a home for true cinema. Spielberg believes to truly experience movie magic people must travel to theaters to experience it. This is incredibly troublesome and idiotic if you ask me since Roma is the greatest example of why the Netflix model is genius.
Let me paint a scenario: Imagine going up to the average human being on the street and telling them about a black and white film made in Mexico that is entirely in Spanish and is 2 hours and 15 minutes longs. If they hadn’t fallen asleep during the description or made fun of you for trying to sound intellectual and cultured you would urge them to see it. All they would have to do is travel to their local indie arthouse (if they have one) and spend $12-15 dollars to see it. My guess is you would probably have a one in 100 success rate. But enter Netflix. Anyone with a Netflix subscription can see this film. All it takes is a click. It is widely known that Roma is great, and perhaps after watching the latest trash Adam Sandler film or their latest baking show, they might want to check out something that might just make them smarter. This is an incredible opportunity. Having your greatest film in a place people can actually watch it is never, ever a bad thing. Roma is a film everyone should see. Anyone that wants to attack the process that allows people to actually see films is ridiculous, and for some stupid reason, this is the main cause for Roma not winning on Sunday night.
But, yes, back to the reason I am writing this. Green Book is a joke. There are so many problematic elements in this film. In case you haven’t seen it, Green Book is the “true story” of the “relationship” between Tony Vallelonga and Dr. Donald Shirley. The film centers around Vallelonga and the time of his life where he is hired to be a driver for the incredibly talented Dr. Shirley, who happens to be one of the greatest pianists of his generation. Shirley hires Vallelonga to drive him through the country as he plays many concerts, the kicker being that Dr. Shirley is an African-American and this takes place in the Deep South in the 1960s.
On the surface, Green Book is a smoothly cut and well-written film that touches on race relations and a tale of character growth and self-discovery. It wants you to root for the main character, Vallelonga, who begins the film incredibly intolerant and winds up becoming a great man who learns to view his new boss as more than a black man, but a man struggling to find himself. The relationship between the two characters, thanks to amazing performances by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershela Ali, makes this film enjoyable to watch and easy to emotionally connect with. The film ends happy with Dr. Shirley attending the Vallelonga family Christmas and all is great with the world despite the color of anyone’s skin.
As the credits roll your heart is happy and you feel like it is a happily ever after ending. That is the moment I should have flipped this movie off and never thought of it again. Unfortunately, that is not how it went.
When you put this movie under a microscope that is when things go off the rails. This movie was meant to be easy viewing, appealing to viewers who just want to escape for two hours, feel less guilty about being white and get out feeling like we are all equal and the world is a better place because of white people. Unfortunately, it is not, and this film was written by a group of white men, all ranging from their 40’s into their ’60s who clearly don’t understand what the term “woke” means.
The dictionary shockingly defines woke as “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” This film is the least woke movie imaginable. It is a film written by white people that are focusing on a time when white people were awful to black people, and instead of focusing solely on the terrible treatment of its main black character it decides to paint the racist white guy as the hero, the savior, the man with all the answers to all the problems. It’s infuriating.
There are about four scenes I can think of that absolutely blow a chance to say something poignant and moving and instead just paint the white man as the moral compass of the film. Instead, I will talk about the only scene in the entire film that takes place at a black establishment.
As the film reaches its emotional climax, Dr. Shirley and Tony go to a black bar to eat and Dr. Shirley takes the stage to show his incredible gift. The scene is meant to be a revelation and tell us that Shirley can play to “his people” too and they can love him as well. The scene is lovely and nice, but the moment they walk out of the bar, Tony pauses and takes out his gun and fires two shots into the air. We see two black men hiding behind Dr. Shirley’s car scatter and run away. This made me audibly yell, “Seriously?” The first time when seeing a gathering of African-Americans together, you decide to paint a portion of their population as criminals? I didn’t understand the reason for this besides just trying to paint Tony as an even more heroic character.
What upsets me the most is so many films this year were fresh, accurate depictions of life. From Cuaron’s deeply personal retelling of his childhood in Roma, to Bo Burnham’s incredible depiction of life as a middle schooler in 2018 in Eighth Grade and my favorite movie of the year Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. These are all movies about real issues, told by people who have experienced them and in a way that is incredibly honest and real. Green Book is a story that Dr. Shirley’s family has come out and said is a complete fabrication of the truth and a story of a relationship that didn’t exist. They claim they weren’t consulted at all during the making of the film and even though the film paints Dr. Shirley as a loner who didn’t have a family supporting him, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
The cherry on top was the acceptance speech last night. It is widely known that this film has come under massive scrutiny. And all of my issues have been put out there for months. So as Julia Roberts read the winner and Peter Farrelly and Tony’s son Nick walked to the stage, maybe, just maybe they could set this whole thing right. Maybe talk about the racial issues that remain today and apologize for so many of the misunderstandings of the film, or possibly thank the Shirley family and give them a platform to speak………
Nope! Nadda! None of that!
Instead, it was a parade of white dudes thanking random people and then director and writer, Peter Farrelly had the audacity to thank Viggo Mortensen and say this film would never have been made without him. Umm… no, this film would have never been made without the incredible courage, dignity, and perseverance of Dr. Shirley. The man who went into the mouth of the racist beast to share his talents with the world and some of the worst scum in this country in the 1960s. The hate and vitriol he experienced and brushed off are unlike anything those men have ever experienced or will ever begin to comprehend. But here they were in their tuxedos, holding their golden statues and they didn’t even say his name once.