Thursday, November 29, 2018

Green Book (2018)

In the 1930s, African-Americans were becoming a sizable part of the middle class.  This meant buying cars.  In turn, this meant traveling to different cities.  Victor Hugo Green created and published The Negro Motorist Green Book, which listed establishments, such as restaurants and hotels, that were welcoming of people of color.  If you were in an unfamiliar area, it was a good idea to know which hotels that would take you for the night or if you should just skip the area altogether.

By the late 1960s, the book had become unnecessary.  This isn’t to say that discrimination had stopped.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act made it more difficult to discriminate.  This puts The Green Book near the end of the book’s publication.  It’s 1962 and Frank Anthony Vallelonga, a.k.a. Tony Lip, is working at the Copacabana as the muscle.  When the nightclub closes for renovation, he faces a two-month gap where he won’t be working.  Money’s already tight, so he’s in no position to refuse work.

Someone knows a doctor that’s looking for a driver, so Tony goes in for an interview.  The doctor is Dr. Don Shirley, a pianist that’s going on tour through The South.  Tony is reluctant at first.  It’s evident that the two will be the epitome of odd couples.  The two are opposite in almost every respect.  Don does take the job on the condition that he be able to be back for Christmas Eve.  Before they leave, the record studio gives Tony a copy of the titular book.

I’m amazed, although not surprised, that something like the Negro Motorist Green Book existed.  Apparently, it was one of many similar publications for minorities.  I remember a gym teacher telling me about Miami Beach during the time.  Blacks had to be off The Beach before sundown if they didn’t have a work permit.  Entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr., could perform in the hotels there, but had to stay on the mainland.

Much of the movie is what you’d expect.  We get those subtle hints that Tony’s hard up for cash, like the fact that he has to pawn a watch.  Tony also has to bribe a police officer after Don and another man are found naked at a chapter of the YMCA.  As you might imagine, it’s not a movie for small children.  Not only would they not understand a lot of the subject matter, Tony’s not one to hold back on the racial slurs.

I once heard a good definition of an odd couple, which is that they are two people that remain friends despite being opposites in terms of personality.  Don and Tony are the epitome of odd couples.  Don is everything that Tony is not.  They look down on each other at first, but come to respect each other a little more by the end of the movie.  A post script reveals that they kept in contact after the events of the movie.

For most people, I would recommend waiting for the movie to come out on DVD.  It’s not one of the more spectacular films, but it does have that somewhat uplifting ending.  (Comparisons to Planes, Trains and Automobiles aren’t that far off.)  My only real complaint is that I would have liked to see a little more exposition on what the Green Book was.  At the very least, I hope it gets people looking it up.

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