At last night’s Golden Globes, we were delighted by a lot of wins, like the awards for Olivia Coleman, Regina King, Sandra Oh, and Glenn Close. But we also had the movie Green Book taking home three awards: Best Screenplay, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture (which went to Mahershala Ali), and Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical.
For context, the other nominees for Best Screenplay were: The Favourite (Tony McNamara, Deborah Davis), Vice (Adam McKay), Roma (Alfonso Cuarón), and If Beale Street Could Talk, (Barry Jenkins). Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical (a category that needs to be changed like yesterday): Crazy Rich Asians, The Favourite, Mary Poppins Returns, and Vice.
I’m not going to throw dirt on Ali’s performance because he is a talented actor, but the whole situation is just a mess. Yet what do we expect from the night that gave Bohemian Rhapsody Best Motion Picture, Drama against Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star is Born?
I’ve talked about the issue of “feel good”‘ racism movies like Green Book that want to tell stories about people of color and racists learning to get along through eating fried chicken and whatever bullshit people think looks good. The family of Dr. Donald Shirley, the man Ali is portraying in the movie, have already called out the film for how it treated him (the script was written by Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, who is played by Viggo Mortensen in the movie). Shirley’s family is upset at how the film downplayed his relationship to Black culture, as our own Chelsea Steiner wrote:
“Shirley’s family also takes umbrage with the film’s depiction of the musical genius as estranged from Black culture. Shirley was very active in the civil rights movement, marching in Selma and befriending Dr. Martin Luther King. Furthermore, Shirley was not only familiar with popular African American musical artists, including Nina Simone, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughn, but considered them friends. “That was very hurtful,” Edwin said of the depiction, “That’s just 100% wrong.'”
During the Golden Globes ceremony, Ali was asked again about the Shirley family’s feelings about the film and responded:
“I will say this,” Ali said sincerely, “my job is always the same: I have to look at what I am doing and be responsible for it.” He says he and everyone working on the film put a lot energy into the project and he does not want to “throw away” what everyone has done.
He continued to say that:”I respect the family…and Don Shirley,” he said. “I spoke to the studio and the family and at the end of the day you wish everyone was happy and you don’t want to offend anyone in any capacity.”
That criticism carried on backstage, where Octavia Spencer stepped in to answer a question concerning the criticisms against Green Book. Spencer is an executive producer on the film.
— Bryn Elise Sandberg (@brynsandberg) January 7, 2019
The issues surrounding Green Book are many. It was clearly not written with Shirley and his complexities in mind, it was written from the perspective of Tony Vallelonga because it was his son who wrote it. If the reason that Spencer and Ali were drawn to the movie was because it told the story of this Black man, then why didn’t they do any of their own research into the story to see if it was telling the whole thing … especially since it was written by white authors with such close ties to only one of the figures?
I don’t think this was done maliciously, but it does taint the film and for the Hollywood Foreign Press to be so blind to that just makes me want to sigh. But they did give Three Billboards multiple awards so should we really expect better from them?
My feelings on the wins for Green Book (and Bohemian Rhapsody) can be summed up in these two excellent tweets:
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and GREEN BOOK are definitely the best movies of the year unless you ask the communities those movies were supposed to represent.
— Louis Virtel (@louisvirtel) January 7, 2019
“driving ms daisy” crawled so “crash” could walk so “the blindside” could run so “three billboards” could fly so “green book” could teleport to my house and double back handspring on my neck and make sure at least one of those white savior movies comes out a year and ruin my life
— Ayo Edebiri (@ayoedebiri) January 7, 2019
(image: Marvel/Universal Pictures)
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