For those of you who missed this movie, "Green Book" is the story of the meeting, and eventual friendship between Dr. Don Shirley and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Dr. Shirley was a musician who, in the movie, is embarking on a tour of the American deep South. For the tour, Dr. Shirley hires Tony "Lip" Vallelonga as his driver. During the course of the movie, we see their travels on this tour and the beginning of a friendship between the two.
I found a few interesting points in the article, one of which was complaints from the Shirley family that the "Green Book,"
"...not only exaggerates the closeness of his relationship with Vallelonga, but falsely portrays him as having been estranged from his family."
I can understand this and appreciate the criticism. The movie is tagged as, “Inspired by a true story,” which can make stories gray as far as what is, and is not, factual; a general rule is, no family likes to be painted in a bad light so I get where their frustration comes from.
The frustration for me lies in the criticism turning to the lack of focus on Dr. Shirley in the movie. From the article (emphasis mine):
"To make matters worse, “Green Book” is a “white savior” film in which Vallelonga is presented as the hero of the piece, with Shirley being seen almost entirely through his eyes. Again, this may be more of a problem for younger, self-consciously “woke” viewers, but it’s absolutely true that “Green Book” doesn’t tell us nearly enough about Shirley, an all-but-forgotten artist who should be far better remembered."
Once again, I can appreciate the criticism for the lack of focus on Dr. Shirley in the movie, but my disagreement is in this being a "White Savior" movie. How, exactly, did Mr. Vallelonga "Save" Dr. Shirley in the movie? The movie is as much a journey for Mr. Vallelonga as it is for Dr. Shirley.
In Mr. Vallelonga we have a man who is is following along with the generally racist views of his time. He's not a caricature of racism, he doesn't participate in Klan rallies, he doesn't burn down black churches, he isn't a closet Nazi; he is an average man of his time. His actions early in the movie show a distaste for black people. While he isn't violent to them, it was obvious, from my viewpoint, he thought himself better than them.
Mr. Vallelonga is flawed.
Mr. Vallelonga winds up as Dr. Shirley's driver for his tour and we, the audience, get a glimpse of how Mr. Vallelonga's viewpoint changes when he is faced with a man who is more cultured, better educated, far more eloquent and amazingly talented. We get a glimpse of what can be, when two people let their guard down, recognize the humanity in each other, and treat each other as human beings.
While the movie could have focused on Dr. Shirley, and could be an excellent movie in its own right, it would be a different movie. From my view, Dr. Shirley had his own demons to overcome, and while this movie doesn't glance away or sugar coat them, it does the same for Mr. Vallelonga.
Spoiler alert, Mr. Vallelonga grows as a human. In fairness, Dr. Shirley also grows, BUT the point is, Mr. Vallelonga had much further to grow. Dr. Shirley's motivation for the tour was presented as an opportunity to advance the cause of black people. The fact he eventually befriends Mr. Vallelonga is a testament to his success.
From my perspective, the choice to focus on Mr. Vallelonga, and him eventually overcoming his flaws, was an interesting story. It also gives us an opportunity to see how we can grow as humans, and move beyond needing to categorize and separate everyone.
We are all one race, the human race.
The reason for me writing this post is my frustration that a story of a man overcoming his prejudices, finding a friend and becoming a better man, is treated as a "White Savior" movie. I view this as evidence of the inability for modern audiences to understand "Character Development" and growth. People are flawed. (Yes, you are as well, Reader; so am I. We ALL are.) What makes us human, what makes us grow as humans, are the choices we make to better ourselves in spite of our flaws. My view is, audiences not understanding character growth, is evidence of the slow death of logic and critical thinking.
If you must have a Mary Sue as your protagonist; flawless, intelligent, handsome/beautiful, perfect in every way down to never having bad breath or needing to use the bathroom, (I'm looking at you, Julie Andrews, you magnificent, wonderful woman), then the "Green Book" is not for you.
If you want a movie where the characters have flaws, but are generally good people, have weaknesses, but work to overcome them and, in the end, still aren't perfect, but are a little better because of the journey, then the "Green Book" is the movie for you.
In short, my family and I love this movie.
Link to the Wall Street Journal article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-wrong-with-green-book-11545949461