Green Book takes a sweet drive down the racist South

At first glance Green Book won't catch your attention, but should you decide to stick around for the two hours of the film, the charm of the characters will help you see the importance of their journey, writes Rhodé Marshall.

Green Book

Director: Peter Farrelly

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali


When I first saw the poster of director Peter Farrelly’s new film, Green Book, I told my colleague the film looked boring, but that I would watch it anyway. Well let me tell you something ... more than two hours later the film was exactly that – boring but watchable and, in the end, quite charming if you're into the sugarcoating of racism. The always pleasant-to-watch Mahershala Ali plays Doctor Donald Shirley, a renowned pianist who develops an endearing friendship with his driver Tony Lip, played strongly by Viggo Mortensen. This true story takes us back to 1962 in New York City, where Tony is struggling with unemployment. Donald is in search of a driver to take him through the racist deep South for an upcoming tour. Donald is well aware of the trouble he’s going to face as a black man. He then hires Tony to be both his driver and protector.

Green Book is named after the guide used by black travellers between the 30s and 60s to keep away from places that could possibly lead to trouble. The book was intended to recommend safe lodgings. For the duration of the film it shows the everyday humiliations that were forced on black people at that time. Donald isn’t able to stay at some hotels, during certain times of day he couldn’t be out and there are certain bathrooms he could not use.

Donald is reserved and somewhat too serious; Tony is a loudmouth, who is rude and opinionated – and sometimes causes problems.

Yet these two find their sweet spot and learn to rely on and trust each other as they face troubles along the way. Green Book is an important story but it’s not the most visually exciting film. If you stop watching the screen and just listen as you type on your phone (as some of us millennials do) you’ll still be pretty much on track with the story line.

Tony, who in the beginning of the film reveals his own racism, soon witnesses the indignities Donald faces. The pianist is good enough to entertain the white folks but in the end he’s just another despised black man of service to the master.

Some might watch this film as a reflection of the past and find that comforting; the truth is these situations still occur around the world. The charm of the film is watching the men grow closer and seeing Tony’s views change but within that is where the problems of the film lies. It would have been far more profound if the film interrogated whether there is change and forgiveness for racists. 

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