Golden Globe winner Mahershala Ali with Viggo Mortensen in 'Green Book'. Picture: Focus Features
Golden Globe winner Mahershala Ali with Viggo Mortensen in 'Green Book'. Picture: Focus Features

‘Green Book’ suffers from a white saviour complex

By Jamal Grootboom Time of article published Feb 8, 2019

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Following Mahershala Ali (Dr Don Shirley) winning the best-supporting actor award at the Golden Globes this year, going to watch Green Book was quite an experience.

The film has had several scandals surface.

And hearing about one of the writers, Nick Vallelonga, posting an anti-Muslin tweet in 2015, Viggo Mortensen (who plays Tony “Lip” Vallelonga) using the * -word in an interview, and director Peter Farrelly whipping out his penis on set as a prank on previous films, is shocking to say the least.

The producers decided to solely go on Nick Vallelonga’s account (Tony’s son) of what happened between Dr Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga as the jumping off point of the film, forgoing reaching out to Shirley’s family to get a full view of the story during pre-production.

This has resulted in a film that on the surface is an entertaining experience. However, once you dig deeper you realise that Green Book is, in fact, a one-sided, “white saviour” film that was made to make American whites feel warm and fuzzy, with a sense of “look how far we’ve come” afterwards.

Even though Shirley should, in essence, be the co-lead, he ends up playing second fiddle to Vallelonga. Watching the film as a person of colour was truly infuriating, since Vallelonga was made out to have a full character arc.

He “sees the error” in his racist ways, while Shirley is given no back story, and we only find out that he is a queer man an hour and a half into the film.

Meanwhile, we get scene-upon-scene with Vallelonga’s family. And he very much comes across as a white saviour who teaches Shirley to reconnect with his blackness.

Green Book is reckless in the way it approaches racism, depicting Shirley as the out-of-touch black person who through his journey with Vallelonga is able to gain friendship and new insight into white people.

Even though, according to Shirley’s family, they were never friends, and Vallelonga had a complex about being a subordinate to a black man during the1960s.

Depicting inaccuracies for the sake of making white people feel good about a period when racism was more overt (even though racism later morphed into different forms and in many cases remains overt) compared to modern days, is reckless.

And the weak attempts at trying to show “Rich * *****, poor * *****, house * *****, field * *****, still * *****”, so eloquently said by Jay Z in The Story of OJ, came across as a secondary thought that, in fact, should have been the main theme running throughout a film.

This movie should have centred on Shirley as he navigates the 1960s as an educated black pianist wanting to make a change with his sliver of privilege, while showcasing how little progress has been made with regards to racism.

Instead, this film coddles white viewers to make them feel good on the inside while black/people of colour viewers are left looking at a jaded film that wasn’t made with a true black perspective in mind.

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