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[Arts] Green Book – A Fascinating Journey into American 1960s Racism

Green Book is a road trip film in the classic vein of putting two totally incompatible characters together and seeing how they fight, bicker, learn more about each other and eventually bond in deep friendship. You can sense the happy ending from the start, but the journey is well-worth it due to the marvellous performances and the witty, well-constructed script.

Taking place in 1962, this biographical film follows the true performance tour by African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through USA’s very racist Deep South. Don interviews and gets Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to be his chauffeur and protector along the way. Don is the very upper-class, educated classically-trained artist who has totally disassociated himself from his own cultural heritage to chase the white man’s dream of international recognition and prestige. Tony is the down-and-out bouncer who is desperate to make a living any way he can. Fate brings these two together and sparks fly. Along the way, however, Tony teaches Don to enjoy southern fried chicken – for the first time, but he also learns to appreciate the beauty of the art Don creates nightly on stage with his artistry. Don learns that his faith in humanity is to be truly tested as they travel deeper and deeper into the south’s white man world.

Directed by Peter Farrelly, Green Book takes its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid- 1900s guidebook for African-Americans written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find US motels and restaurants that would allow them to enter and use the facilities. As Don and Tony travel further into the American South, the prevalent racism increasingly shows its ugly face and Tony has to up his game of protecting his boss from all kinds of indignities. Don very quickly also recognises that he is no longer in the first-world cities up north where he is treated as an equal and respected artist. The two eventually have to decide how much racism they can endure - whether to walk away or whether to fight back.

Since its initial release in 2018, Green Book has won numerous awards including the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the National Board of Review Award for the Best Film of 2018, the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. It had five nominations at the 91st Academy Awards and has won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ali) and Best Original Screenplay.

Green Book touches on an abhorrent piece of American history, but does it with truth, humour and artistry. We all know the ending after a few minutes into the film, but to go along for the fascinating ride is a journey well worth the price of admission.

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