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Awarded with three Golden Globes (best comedy/musical, screenplay, supporting actor) Peter Farrelly’s Green Book apparently appraises racism and American dream and of course, in a way, it does exactly that. The film is about – based on a real relationship – the unexpected friendship of the Italian immigrant, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (brilliant and astonishing Viggo Mortensen), with black classical musician, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali with Golden Globe for the role).

Tony becomes Shirley’s driver and goes with him on tour of the American South. The real purpose of a virtuoso who lives alone above Carnegie Hall is not to earn money, but to contribute to the slow process of the racial equation in places where it is most difficult. Despite the gap (racial and economic) between them, the heroes from different environments quickly make friends, finding a common language in a sense of injustice and inequality. After all, they both suffered from exclusion by “real” Americans.

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The portrayal of the environments cannot be faulted – Spike Lee would be pleased. The underworld from Italy will not only be a mafia, but also a warm family, and contrasted with the black people of the South (the 60s South) suffering from inequality, the image of a fabulously rich musician, somewhat balances the stereotypical image of a black slave. The entire script was maintained in a delicate, educational and humorous form, characteristic of family and Christmas cinema, to which the Green Book spiritually belongs.

The problem is that the film – unlike, for example, mentioned above Spike Lee’s  BlacKkKlansman – is trying hard to move away from politics. Yes, we have a reference to President Kennedy, but he does not function as a political figure under deconstruction, but as a symbol of an open and friendly America for those who, if lucky, will come to the continent of dreams coming true. Also, the contrast between rich Shirley and the black farm workers in the southern fields is too great to leave it with the miserable commentary we get in the movie. It is not enough to emphasize the need to remember about one’s origin (Don remembers his roots during the journey) and encourage social activism (Tony learns tolerance and eventually begins to care for the others) and to raise against, as Warga emphasizes, oppression . A strong voice of opposition is also needed against the practices of the seemingly empathic, neoliberal system.

This is not met by Green Book. On the contrary, instead of actually settling accounts with the American dream, it tries to come back to it in a more friendly form, in which the theory is that all residents of the United States are one big family (I refer to the final scenes of the film), whose bases are equal. But in reality they are not. Friendship between Lip and Shirley is a situation with few precedents. Neither if we talk of economic nor racial differences. Sure, they share a subordinate attitude towards the privileged white, rich Americans (according to the white, rich American, of course), but this does not change the status of de facto non-existent community.

After all, for American conditions, the very topic of racism present in a strong box office movie is a lot. I admit, Green Book is a nice entertainment that meets the basic educational assumption, which may be enough to take a small step in the right direction. It is a pity that the wild, western mainstream is still not ready for a loud counterattack on the oppressive system.

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Mateusz Tarwacki

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Laura Przybylska
Laura Przybylska