The controversial film “Green Book” booked a “Best Picture” win at the last night’s Oscars but it wasn’t a happy ending for some who considered the honor a slap in the face.
Mahershala Ali, who starred in the movie as concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley, won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He first won Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Moonlight” in 2016.
Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a film based on the novel of the same name by author James Baldwin.
“Green Book” is an important book in the history of black people, but the film was not a popular choice.
Director Spike Lee looked visibly angry and Jordon Peele, producer of the “BlackkKlansman,” refused to clap when Julia Roberts announced the winner. Lee directed BlackkKlansman,” which competed with “Green Book” in the Best Picture category. Before the Oscars, many believed Lee would win his first Academy Award for best director. But it was not to be. He did win an Oscar for “Best Adapted Screenplay.”
Lee stormed out of the Hollywood Dolby Theatre, returning after the “Green Book” acceptance speeches finished.
A big New York Knicks fan, Lee said, “I felt I was sitting courtside at a Knicks game and the ref made the wrong call.”
“Green Book”’s, writers Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie, said they have all the respect in the world for Spike Lee. “When people saw it, they liked it,” Vallelonga said of the movie.
Social media also exploded in anger at the choice. As it had been reported earlier, Dr. Shirley’s sister, Yvonne Shirley, denounced the film, saying it was an unfair portrait of her brother, who is being taught to be a black man by Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a racist Italian, played by Viggo Mortenson.
She also took issue with her brother being disconnected from the black community, which wasn’t true. She and some others called Green Book a white savior film in which a white person saves the day because black people are helpless.
The film’s title is taken from “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” which was published from 1936 to 1966 by Victor Hugo Green, thus the name “Green Book.”
Green, who was a mailman, published the book after asking his readers to provide information “on the Negro motoring conditions, scenic wonders in your travels, places visited of interest and short stories on one’s motoring experience.”
The book told black motorists which hotels were safe and not safe on road trips when the country and most of its white citizens embraced segregation. Many hotels in the South housed members of the Klu Klux Klan.
Black travelers faced trouble buying gas, dining at restaurants and finding a place to sleep for the night.
Police also could arrest blacks for breaking the law if they were in certain towns after sundown, known as “sundown towns.” Over half the towns in Illinois, the land of Lincoln, were sundown towns. The unofficial slogan of Anna, Illinois, which had violently expelled its African-American population in 1909, was “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.” Police also could arrest a black motorist for passing a car driven by a white person. Because on a dirt road, the passing car would spray dirt on the slower car’s windshield.
The book Green Book instructs black motorists how to avoid restaurants, gas stations and hotels where they won’t be served and where they might possibly be beaten or killed. In New Hampshire, only three motels in 1956 served African Americans, and in Utah no hotels served blacks.Only six percent of the more than 100 motels that lined U.S. Route 66- the Mother Road or the main street of America- in Albuquerque admitted black customers.[
Esso, now Exxon Mobil, embraced The Green Book, as a way Negro motorists could travel with less anxiety. The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants and private homes, early versions of Airbnb, where blacks could feel safe.
Although the movie takes place in the South, other than name Green Book, it does not address any of the obstacles black travelers faced. In only one scene in the movie, the Lip drops Dr. Shirley off at a motel that he calls a dump and it is.