There are plenty of times when people are given the chance to remember what things used to be like back in the day, even if they’re given stylized versions of the past that don’t always dig that deep into the subjects that many feel are controversial. Green Book is a fairly good representation of how truly messed-up Jim Crow laws were back in the day, but it would appear that it didn’t settle with some folks in the same way that it did with others. In fact, it sounds as though the family of the actual Doctor Don Shirley felt that the movie was a bunch of lies that didn’t tell the story the way it went and was more or less a fanciful way to make Tony Lip look like a man that had a journey to go on that would bring him to a better understanding of who Shirley was and why his bigoted ways were getting in the way of being a better man. The idea that the movie was seen from Tony’s point of view isn’t wrong, but it feels as though too many people missed the point that it was a transformational experience.
Worse yet is the fact that the night that this movie started winning awards, Spike Lee, one of the guys that one might have expected to hear something from, decided that it was worth throwing a bit of a fit about it when he didn’t win the award for Best Picture during an awards ceremony that’s become as close to meaningless as it can be. In other words, this movie appeared to spark a few feelings in people that were triggering in a way that made little to no sense given that it was a Hollywood movie based on a real story. It wasn’t the ACTUAL story, but a drama created to tell a tale in a manner that would get a response.
The movie starts by showing Tony Lip working in the Copacabana, as he actually did in real life, and having to struggle a bit when the club shut down for renovations. Upon having to find other means to make money, he interviews with Dr. Shirley, a professional pianist that needs a chauffeur/assistant to drive him to his concerts and assist him in various matters such as finding lodging, keeping him well-supplied in Cutty Sark, and essentially keeping him safe since the tour is set to travel the deep south, which means that Shirley is bound to be less than accepted as anything other than a colored piano player, who is fine to listen to but is to be treated like a common servant when he’s done. If that doesn’t provoke an emotional response in a lot of people it’s fair to say that folks might have become far too desensitized to such movies. But from the moment Tony and Shirley meet, it’s kind of obvious that Tony isn’t too fond of the idea of taking this job since he starts out acting like a complete bigot, which is made clear when he throws away two glasses in his home that were used by two colored repairmen that his wife had hired.
During their time on the road and through one interaction after another in which they come to find out more and more about each other, it becomes easier to see how a person can be swayed from their current attitudes and made to understand that by widening their worldview that they can become more empathetic toward others. This is what happens to Tony as he begins to understand what life is like for Shirley. But at the same time, and this appears to be what upset some folks, Lip makes a slew of remarks that appear to indicate that Shirley is the one that’s out of touch with his own people and that Lip at least knows who he is. The fact of the matter is that Shirley does come off as a rather uptight individual that’s removed himself from several facets of life, while Lip is the guy that lives in the trenches, so to speak, but knows little to nothing of Shirley’s world. By spending time with each other, they end up figuring out that neither one of them knows the whole picture, and this in turn inspires them to learn from each other.
Green Book is the type of movie that can be uplifting but also kind of frustrating since the reactions of the people watching are going to vary based on their own point of view and how they think the movie did in portraying the overall story. One thing that needs to be remembered is that these movies tend to take a great number of liberties as a rule, not an exception. Taking offense to a movie and its message is up to the individual, but there are times when it should be remembered that a movie isn’t the unvarnished truth, it’s a version of the story that actually happened.