The Academy Shocked Viewers by Dropping a Best Picture Bombshell: Green Book
“I thought I was courtside at the Garden and the ref made a bad call.”
— Oscar-winning director Spike Lee on Green Book’s Best Picture win.
It’s rare that people have such harsh feelings towards a feel-good movie. But Green Book, from comedy filmmaker Peter Farrelly, is a rare type of film.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an archaic American institution. And a much of its voting body still upholds the Academy’s archaic values. But the times they are a changin’. These days (some) moviegoers demand films representative of the world we live in right now. Green Book awkwardly straddles the line between Oscar-voters’ historical preferences and the sea of change sweeping through the industry. It’s a film that voices liberal sensibilities by kowtowing to an audience that, to put it lightly, isn’t woke. And regardless of where you stand on the picture, Green Book makes a fascinating case-study. So, let’s discuss why.
Detractors claim that Green Book is a problematic film that glosses over the ugliness of America’s racial tension. They say it plays fast and loose with the facts surrounding its central character Don Shirley’s life. And people argue it’s a throwback to the inoffensive pablum that Oscar-voters ate up before the #OscarsSoWhite era. Think of movies like The Blind Side (2009), The Help (2011), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). This line of thinking argues that Green Book is crafted to make white viewers feel good about themselves because they watched it. It’s the cinematic equivalent of saying, “I can’t be racist because I have a black friend.”
People in the movie’s camp point out that Green Book is a well-made movie. It features striking cinematography, classic pop music, tight editing, and funny writing. And most importantly, the supernova-level charisma of its two stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The men anchor the film with two memorable performances. People often say that an actor is so good they would pay to watch them read the phone book. Mortensen and Ali are two such actors, and as far as material goes, Green Book ain’t no phone book.
Unlike BlacKkKlansman or even Black Panther, Green Book doesn’t offer a deep dive into the heart of racial tension, and always stops short of rubbing viewers faces in the ugliness of America’s race problem. And these factors are features and not bugs. They’re what makes the film so damn watchable. Green Book’s formula appeals to the broadest possible base, but in doing so, it becomes a watered-down social commentary. Whereas Spike Lee uses his films to stand on a soapbox and shout painful truths through a megaphone, Green book wags its finger and says, “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
Here’s the thing, though. Green Book is the type of movie that many Americans must watch to reach a point where we don’t need more movies like Green Book. Films like Roma and Moonlight are unassailable masterpieces. But they only reach a fraction of the audience as movies like Green Book. And even if you somehow forced sheltered viewers to watch insightful, heart-wrenching, and complex stories, they’re not ready for such painful truths to be laid out bare. As hard as it is to accept, some people must slowly work up a tolerance. That’s because the truth hurts.
The conversation shouldn’t be about Green Book’s artistic merits or how tone-deaf it is. We need movies like Green Book to reach a specific audience. The real problem happens when Hollywood only churns out these types of films. The tragedy comes from Green Book overshadowing the Moonlights and the Romas of the world. Fortunately, the compassionate and enlightened movies will still be here waiting for people once they level up their wokeness.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t challenge moviegoers with difficult stories. But forcing BlacKkKlansman, Roma, or even 12 Years a Slave on unprepared moviegoers is like taking someone who can’t swim and throwing them in the ocean. Some people must begin in the kiddie pool and inch their way over to the deep end. Critics are angry because they see Green Book, as the social commentary equivalent of the kiddie pool. These days, it feels like we’re all on a sinking ship and it pains me that so few of us can swim.
For a full list of last night’s winners and losers click here.