These are indeed very tough times. I’ve been revisiting movies that have focused on civil rights and out of all of them, Green Book is my absolute favorite. I’ll start out by saying that I’m a huge Viggo Mortensen fan and his stellar performance alongside Mahershala Ali made for an outstanding duo. It was one of my favorite movies of 2018 and will go on to become a real classic. But why are movies like these so important in these dark days? Well, movies like Green Book represent what the pursuit of civil rights can lead to: tolerance, acceptance, and unity of all kinds of people. It’s really heartbreaking to see everyone drawing a line to create sides and solidifying the us vs. them mentality, but then again, this isn’t a perfect world. However, that does not mean we are incapable of changing for the better.
Rewatching Green Book reminded me why we need to erase all lines that divide us and learn to come together as one. Isn’t that what civil rights is all about? I can get into the politics of both sides, but that’s a conversation for another time. As a fan of movies, I strongly believe that entertainment is crucial in times of anger and frustration. We can always go to big action movies that are fun to watch, but it’s also important to acknowledge the films that tackle the issues we struggle with today. In my opinion, Green Book is not only tangible in that aspect, but it shows how the most stubborn of people can change their views and how unlikely friendships can be forged from the most unexpected circumstances.
Let’s begin with the two main characters played by Mortensen and Ali: Mortensen plays Tony Lip, a carefree and prejudiced white man who is hired to drive black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Ali’s character) through the Midwest and the Deep South. On top of that, it takes place in 1962, a time in our country’s history when segregation was still very much prominent. When their tour begins, Tony and Don get off to a pretty bad start, but as they continue touring together, both men come to realize how narrow-minded they truly were. While Don lacked confidence in the beginning, Tony encourages to stand up for himself. Likewise, when Tony has trouble writing letters to his wife, Don instructs him to write much more moving and loving words to her. The two men bond over time, but things do get tense between them eventually.
Tony learns that while Don is indeed a talented pianist, he has become isolated and knows little about his own people. Due to his wealth, he is looked down upon by his fellow blacks, and when he’s not performing on stage, he is treated just as unfairly by his hosts. This harsh treatment really opens Tony’s eyes and he abandons his former prejudiced ways. What was really moving about this development is that Don was a man with wealth, an education, and serious connections (he was friends with Robert F. Kennedy), and yet he was still a victim of discrimination. What struck me the most is that he was ultimately a very lonely man who found an unlikely and much-needed friend.
That is the message Green Book delivers. A shy and educated black man becoming good friends with a tough and prejudiced white man? On paper, that sounds unlikely, but keep in mind, it is very based on a true story. In real life, these two men remained good friends until they both passed in 2013. Tony and Don learned from each other and on top of that, they encouraged one another to overcome their flaws. From Don telling Tony that violence solves nothing, to Tony encouraging Don to reach out to his estranged brother, this unlikely pair resembles truly the most special kind of friendship.
But Green Book doesn’t stop there. Sure, it explores the topics of racism and the struggle for civil rights, but there was one scene towards the end that really stood out to me. The first time Don and Tony are pulled over by white police officers, they are both treated inhumanely. Going into this movie, I expected to see a scene like that take place. It also sadly reflects what we’re all seeing in our society today. Police brutality and racism is undoubtedly unacceptable. This is the motivation behind every peaceful protester that wishes to see some changes happening. Police reforms can and should happen, but that doesn’t mean we should all forget why the police exist in the first place.
Towards the ending of Green Book, Tony and Don are once again pulled over by several white police officers, only this time, the police assist them. These were not racist cops, despite living in a time of prominent racism and segregation. Racist cops unfortunately still exist, but the ones who are good, honorable officers of the law live up to their job titles. Watching that scene again reassured me that militarizing the police is not the answer. The police work best when they are acting as servants of the community. If we see more videos and photos of cops helping other people, then the community’s faith in our law enforcement can be restored. If those cops didn’t assist Tony and Don when they were driving home, it’s possible they wouldn’t of made it home in time for Christmas dinner.
Green Book isn’t just a movie about friendship, it’s about all kinds of people coming together. It tells the true story of how a man’s views can change for the better. Even Don learns an important lesson from Tony when he finally stands up for himself. Don was once again denied basic service in a restaurant, angering Tony. Instead of reacting violently, Don simply tells Tony he refuses to play for them, and they both leave. Both men realize that they could send a message without resorting to violence.
Anger is an understandable reaction, but when that anger is used to incite violence, it only creates more chaos. Green Book shows us that we are all stronger when we come together and use the power of our voices. When the best of the police stand with us, we can truly begin to incite change. Green Book has reminded me that talking to each other makes us learn from one another, which can lead to some great results. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can try to at least understand the points we don’t agree with. Much like Tony and Don, we can disagree along the way, but if we continue to listen, the endgame will reward us with much better results.
If you have civil rights on your mind, I implore you to check out Green Book. Stay safe and stay civil.
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