The Jetstream Journal

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Green Book: Changing People’s Hearts

The actual book served as a guide for African American travelers trying to safely navigate the deep south.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Negro_Motorist_Green_Book.jpg

The actual book served as a guide for African American travelers trying to safely navigate the deep south.

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February is Black History Month, and, lately, the media has given people a number of exceptional movies to promote equality.

Starz came out with a documentary in August of 2018 called America to Me, which is centered around Oak Park High School in Oak Park, Il. There were two recent box office hits centered around overcoming racism: The Hate You Give and Green Book.

Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly, has been nominated for five Oscars, won three Golden Globes, and was nominated for two others, as well as a number of other awards and nominations. The film was rated 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.3 out of 10 on IMDb, and made $81.8 million in the box office.

The film tells the simultaneously insightful, sad and humorous story of the African American pianist, Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his concert tour of the deep south.

In the 60s, the deep south wasn’t a safe place for African Americans, so Shirley hired Frank Anthony Vallelonga, a.k.a Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a racist Italian bouncer, to be his driver and bodyguard. Over the course of the movie, the pair, unsurprisingly, become close friends. It is based off of a true story, and Tony Lip’s son, Nick Vallelonga, was a huge part of the screenwriting. 

The title gets its name from the book The Negro Motorist Green Book, written by Victor Hugo Green to help African American travelers navigate the deeply racist south safely. This book is referenced at various points in the film.

The viewer watches Tony Lip’s early racist behavior, such as throwing away a pair of glasses that his wife served lemonade to two black plumbers in. He makes a number of assumptions about Shirley based off of negative stereotypes, such as “all black people like fried chicken and listen to a certain kind of music.”

As the story goes on, Tony behaves differently than he did at the beginning towards both Shirley and other black people. Near the end, he punches a cop for talking to Shirley in a degrading way. “You never win with violence, you only win when you maintain your dignity,” Shirley told Tony when they were in jail.

Shirley himself struggles with his identity. His education and upbringing separate him from many African Americans, but he isn’t white either. This leaves him feeling like an extra puzzle piece. There’s one scene that suggests he is also gay. This internal conflict is highlighted by the scene in which Tony and Shirley have an argument on the side of the road in the rain, and Shirley gives us the memorable quote “So if I’m not black enough and if I’m not white enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?”

Tony comes to the conclusion that Shirley is a lonely man. He drinks too much and isolates himself from everyone, including his own band.

The deepening of the relationship is cheesy. The two share a bucket of fried chicken in the car (Tony’s attempt to get Shirley to like it). Shirley assists Tony in writing letters home to his family. Both characters let down their boundaries and come together.

“Becoming friends made Tony realize how much discrimination there is,” said freshman Jenna Gilchrist. “Don seemed like an intelligent man but discrimination held him back.”

The real Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga remained friends until they died.

The movie was well done; the creators approached a sensitive topic with grace. The mixture of heaviness and humor kept emotions light without belittling the issues discussed. They gave us a number of memorable, powerful quotes.

The story sheds light on an all-too-real part of our history that too many people forget. It falls into many of the current race discussions, reminding us not only of how far we have come but also what we have left to do. It is a perfect way to celebrate black history month and overcoming racism and other forms of discrimination.

“It takes courage to change peoples hearts,”  said Don Shirley.

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About the Writer
Kailey Baldwin, Journalist

Eyo! I'm Kailey! I'm a huge writer, obviously because I'm writing for the school newspaper, but I'm also working on a novel, and I write a lot of poetry....

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