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Green Book (2018)Green Book (2018)

Whatever else you might say about this controversial film, it has won a boat load of awards. And Spike Lee tried to walk out of the Academy Awards ceremonies when Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture (staffers made him return to his seat!). In some ways this is a formulaic and conventional film: a road trip in which two opposites help each other move beyond their narrow personal worlds and, surprise, become something like buddies. "Based on a true story," the movie pairs a black classic pianist named Don Shirley with his white driver-fixer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, who's an Italian thug-bouncer from New York City. They take an eight-week tour through the deep south, and encounter the predictable forms of overt and violent racism. The title of the film comes from a travel guidebook from the 1960's called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which among other things identified places where blacks could safely lodge. In some ways the film is as much about class as race. My wife and I thought parts of the film depended on clunky stereotypes, like fried chicken, outhouses, and Italian families with oily hair, thick accents, and very loud dinners. Others observe that the "hero" of the film who is "redeemed" is the white Tony who saves the black Shirley. And the Shirley family condemned the film as inaccurate. Still others dismiss the film as finding racial reconciliation way too easily, and that despite whatever was won in a single friendship, the real problems with race are systemic and institutional. So, there is your Best Picture of 2018!

Dan Clendenin:

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