“Green Book” would have been a good best picture winner in 1990, when “Driving Miss Daisy” took the top Oscar. Or in 2006, so we wouldn’t have had to hear about “Crash” for the next decade.
But in 2019? Not so much. “Green Book” winning Sunday at the 91st Academy Awards just felt really wrong, especially during an awards season where the story of a black classical musician and his white driver in the 1960s Jim Crow South has never quite been all right.
The movie navigated filmmaker controversies – director Peter Farrelly exposing himself, now-Oscar-winning screenwriter Nick Vallelonga’s controversial 9/11 tweets – as well as the family of one of its subjects, Dr. Don Shirley, calling it “a symphony of lies” and the story coming under fire for portraying race from a white point of view.
Jim Burke (far left), Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly and Brian Hayes Currie pose with their best picture Oscars for "Green Book." (Photo11: DAN MacMEDAN/USA TODAY)
And somehow “Green Book” still won best picture. It’s a head-scratcher of a choice when sitting right there in the category were “Black Panther,” the blockbuster Marvel superhero movie that was a humongous, game-changing win for black representation, and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” which depicted a racist past that mirrors our current tumultuous times.
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It’s also the wrong choice on a night where Lee stood exultant with the first non-honorary Oscar of his long career and Hannah Beachler of “Black Panther” became the first African-American woman to win for production design. “Green Book” ending the ceremony triumphant was odd, a dunderheaded decision at worst and a dull one at best. (Also, if your movie is about race relations, maybe don’t have your trophy-room pictures be only of white filmmakers?)
Following the movie’s victory lap, social media wasn’t having it – then again, “Green Book” has never exactly been a hit there. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted a Wikipedia article where people could find out more about the origins of the real Green Book. “Some of Green Book’s best friends are black movies,” NBC News reporter Alex Seitz-Wald shared.
Many people cannot believe that Green Book won best picture over films like BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Roma, Black Panther or A Star is Born. #Oscarshttps://t.co/EMiG002id7
The newest best picture’s victories didn’t go over all that well in the room, either: “Green Book” filmmakers were met with an underwhelming response after winning for original screenplay, and it didn’t get much more rousing when they won the night’s main prize – even after getting emotional words earlier in the night from civil-rights icon John Lewis and Octavia Spencer, a consultant and producer on the movie, the latter joining Farrelly and fellow filmmakers to accept the final Oscar of the evening. She doesn’t seem like the sort who suffers fools lightly.
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“I thought I was courtside at the Garden. The ref made a bad call,” Lee said in the Oscars press room afterward, after being seen visibly angry when “Green Book” was named best picture. In this case, misery loves company, live as well as online.
Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen, right) is driver, confidante and security for famous pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a 1962 concert tour of the South in "Green Book." (Photo11: UNIVERSAL PICTURES)
The lone saving grace: a supporting actor win for “Green Book” star Mahershala Ali, who plays Shirley opposite Viggo Mortensen’s racist-but-getting-better Tony Lip. It’s the latest of many awards that one of our greatest thespians will take now and in the future.
But what will become of “Green Book” the movie, heretofore known forever as “the 2019 best picture winner”? “Black Panther” will get a sequel that will make roughly a bajillion dollars. “BlacKkKlansman” will give serious heat to Lee’s next projects. And “Green Book” will make a bunch of future Oscar worst-of lists where – move over, “Miss Daisy,” and scoot over, “Crash” – it’ll have some company.
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