By Cyrus Nick
You can’t categorize Green Book by watching the first hour of the movie. It’s 1962. It starts by introducing Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as an Italian-American bouncer who is in trying to find a new job. He gets hired by Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a high-class black pianist to drive him for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South.
In the beginning, we guess Green Book is going to play around the difference between the manners and moral values of these two characters. And it ends with showing that both of them changed after companionship in a road story.
Later on, we discover the hidden motivation of Don for traveling to southern states of the United States where racism is obvious in all aspects of life. Green Book is brilliant in showing the cultural roots of racism without paying directly to it.
In another thoughtful approach, the movie shows how Don is isolated from both white and black communities. And how his aristocratic lifestyle distanced him from ordinary black people he tries to defend.
Tony expresses this separation to Don in this way:
Tony: Christ, I’m blacker than you are.
Don Shirley: Excuse me?
Tony: You don’t know shit about your own people. What they eat, how they talk, how they live. You don’t even know who Little Richard is.
But Don’s self-description of his loneliness shows how deep is his suffering from. He says:
“Yes, I live in a castle, Tony! Alone. And 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 nigger to them. Because that is their true culture. And I suffer that slight alone, because I’m not accepted by my own people ’cause I’m not like them, either. 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?”
Tony’s illiteracy works in two ways for the story. First, it shows how poverty keeps Tony at a lower level in society and how lack of education limits him to be a bouncer or a driver. Second, it makes his relationship with Don more friendly while motivating him to read more and write better letters to his wife.
For Tony, violence is the response to disparity and humiliation. That is why he is surprised by Don’s gentle approach even towards those who deeply believe in the segregation of races. Unlike Tony who believes he should win by violence or bribing and cheating, Don believes: “You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”
Oleg (Dimiter D. Marinov) one of Don’s bandmates explains the reason behind don’s gentle gestures. He says: “Being genius is not enough, it takes courage to change people’s hearts.”
Green Book perhaps is somehow different from the true story that film created based on that. Still, it is one of the best movies made about the racial and social disparity. No doubt it is also a response to the new movements against systematic inequality in the United States.
Unlike “Judas And The Black Messiah” (2021) which encourages more aggressive approaches toward racism, Green Book promotes peaceful and intellectual endeavors to target the cultural roots of racism.