The story’s been said and done: two polar opposites embark on a road trip through unfamiliar land as they confront prejudices and realize that they’re not so different, after all.
Green Book tells this very story. The two major characters include: Tony Lip, a brawny Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, and Don Shirley, a refined African-American classical pianist who employed Lip as his driver. Shirley is planning on a concert tour through the Deep South, using the historical Green Book, an annual guidebook for African-Americans that listed places at which so-called “colored” people were safe to stay. Tony and Shirley’s experiences with each other and the world around them convey a heartwarming story of surpassing shortcomings, differences, and even racism.
Despite its well-intentioned message, Green Book has faced a fair amount of criticism from movie-goers eager to point out the clichés embedded in the story as well as the unrealistic depiction of racism in American history.
Tony was initially portrayed as a raging racist. However, throughout the film, the audience sees Tony’s blatant racism curtailed to prejudices; however, this transformation is only manifested in a few questions about fried chicken and jazz, as if a few days with a black man could suddenly make racism disappear.
Critics were quick to remark that this unrealistic transformation undermined the depth of racism in American society, when, in reality, centuries of discrimination, prejudice, and racism would take much longer to undo and repair. In addition, this led to audiences believing that the film was too white-centered.
However, beneath its Hollywood veneer of clichés, Green Book actually sheds much-needed light on subtle issues of race and identity in both American history and current day society.
“Rich white people pay me to play piano for them, because it makes them feel cultured. But as soon as I step off that stage, I go right back to being just another n****r to them. So If I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, and if I’m not man enough, then tell me Tony, what am I?!”.
During one of the most powerful scenes of the film, Shirley spits these words out to Tony. This scene casts light on one of the most important issues of the film: Shirley’s racial identity and the struggles that he faces because he doesn’t feel like he belongs in black or white culture.
This struggle is especially apparent in a scene where Shirley steps out of the car in a suit, watching the black farmers in their worn out clothing in the farm before him. The audience can not help but feel for Shirley, who, in that moment, feels different from both African Americans and elite white men.
As a whole, many viewers agreed that Green Book’s handling of racism between individuals and those around them truly missed its mark. The film’s formulaic nature, filled with clichés and predictable happy-endings, was met with mixed reviews from skeptics and hopeless romantics alike. However, the film included deeper messages of finding one’s cultural and racial identity. All in all, it told an uplifting narrative of two men overcoming their differences and prejudices, finding themselves in a ruthless world.