‘Green Book’ Faces Backlash Despite Awards Season Praise

Green Book (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Green Book’s Oscar chances got a boost last week when it was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review.

But one reviewer is claiming the film — about a racist Caucasian man chauffeuring an acclaimed African-American musician through the segregated South — is more worthy of criticism than praise.

“I gave it zero stars,” Brooke Obie, managing editor of ShadowAndAct.com told UrbanHollywood411. “It was very disappointing and actually very upsetting.”

Obie reviewed the Peter Farrelly film, and her critique is listed on Rotten Tomatoes. While the comedy-drama has an 82 percent positive rating based on 158 critiques on the review aggregation website, Obie and about two dozen others have panned the film.

Read More‘Green Book’ Named Best Picture by National Board of Review

Green Book is inspired by the true story of  Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American enforcer hired by a record company to provide chauffeur services — and muscle as needed — for pianist Dr. Don Shirley as he tours the Jim Crow South in the 1960s.

Lip is played by Viggo Mortensen, who the National Board of Review named best actor for his role in the film. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali co-stars as Shirley.

The title of the film refers to The Negro Motorist Green-Book, a guide published from 1936-66 that identified places north to south where African-American travelers could safely find food, lodging and other services.

The Green Book (Credit: Amazon)
The Negro Motorist Green-Book (Credit: Amazon)

Obie blasts the film as ahistorical, in part, saying it gives short shrift to the Green Book itself.

“In Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, Black people don’t even touch the Green Book, let alone talk about its vital importance to their lives,” Obie noted in her review, adding in an interview, “We don’t actually leave the movie knowing anything about Dr. Shirley and absolutely you don’t know anything useful about the Green Book as well.”

The film is written by Vallelonga’s son, actor and screenwriter, Nick Vallelonga.

Still, in Obie’s view, the film doesn’t explore the life of Dr. Shirley (1927-2013) — a musical prodigy who lived above Carnegie Hall in an apartment with a throne room no less — or examine the significance of the Negro Motorist guide. Instead, it repeats a trope where the main black character’s function is to be rescued by the white lead.

“This is a white savior movie,” Obie declared.

Read MoreClass, Acceptance and the KKK: These Movies Have Something to Say

Lip alternately uses his fists, his gun or his wallet to pluck Shirley out of various scrapes, including one where the pianist is arrested after a homosexual encounter with a white man at a YMCA.

Perhaps more upsetting for some is the fact that Lip takes on the role of educating the detached Shirley on black culture, introducing him to the music of Little Richard and the wonders of fried chicken.

That depiction has outraged members of Dr. Shirley’s family, who have also objected to the film’s suggestion that Shirley was at odds with one of his siblings. His last surviving brother, Maurice Shirley, told NPR’s 1A Movie Club, “Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the Black community.”

Meanwhile, Obie says Shirley was more woke than the film suggests.

“He was best friends with Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, he would play and accompany the Alvin Ailey dancers,” she observed, “so to paint him as this person who was far removed from blackness, from black culture, from black people is just false.”

Read More‘Green Book’ Wins People’s Choice Award at Toronto Film Festival

Green Book (Credit: Universal Pictures)
“Green Book” continues to win praise from critics groups. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

The National Board of Review didn’t see it that way. The New York-based group stated,  “We are proud to honor Green Book as our best film – it is a warm and a heartfelt look at a remarkable friendship, brought to the screen at a moment where its story of love, compassion, and shared humanity deeply resonates.”

The NBR honors may lift the commercial prospects for the racial road trip movie, which has sputtered at the box office.

This weekend Green Book earned $3.9 million for a tenth place finish. Since it debuted in theaters on Nov. 16, the film has made just over $14 million.

Green Book will have to rely on its crowd-pleasing storyline and the wonderful performances by the lead actors to keep it top of mind in the coming weeks of the holiday movie season,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore, commented to UrbanHollywood411.

Dergarabedian noted that moviegoers may be overlooking Green Book because they are “overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of ‘must see’ blockbusters and awards season contenders currently playing at the multiplex.”

Universal, which released the film, remains upbeat about its box-office prospects, pointing to its coveted A+ Cinema Score and “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

“We are extraordinarily proud to be distributing Dreamworks and Participant Media’s Peter Farrelly directed Green Book, which showcases incredible performances from both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen,” Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures, said in a statement to UrbanHollywood411.

“Audiences are embracing this title, which just begins what will be a very long run at the domestic box office,” Orr added.

Still, Obie maintains the tepid box-office returns speak volumes about Green Book.

“I think it’s old, I think it’s tired,” she said. “This is not something that is feeding the vast majority of people that enjoy movies.”

Nonetheless, Green Book has won numerous audience awards at film festivals from Toronto to Austin, Philadelphia, Denver, Mill Valley and New Orleans. It has won jury awards at the Boston Film Festival, Heartland Film Festival, Twin Cities Film Fest and now gotten accolades from the National Board of Review.

27 thoughts on “‘Green Book’ Faces Backlash Despite Awards Season Praise

  1. Appears that more than a few film critics are bigoted against White people. Enjoy the film; ignore the haters.

  2. Apparently any sort of alliance between blacks and whites is hitting the politically correct razor wire which says more about politically correct than it does about justice.

  3. I haven’t seen the movie,yet, but I doubt that, in this day and age, it is part of a white conspiracy to exonerate themselves of any racist history. There are different perspectives to any movie and the most common one is for activists to shout “racism”.

  4. Interesting story line for the movie but this movie is not a “general audience” flick. The box office numbers seem pretty good for a niche offering. As for the Obie review that seems typical in today’s environment where anything that’s remotely positive about a white/black relationship where the white person seems to be the positive force is labeled as racist. Why can’t these people just enjoy the performances, and story telling and leave the politics out of it.

  5. There have been several “true” story movies lately that are anything but…History lessons are rarely found in movie theaters….

    1. It is BASED on a “true” story; movies, even documentaries, NEVER portray a factual accounting of true events.

  6. Interesting, nowhere in the article does it mention the race of Brooke Obie and her activism. I guessed it correctly and looked her up. But, from her review I really did not have to.

    I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

    1. If you are “black” or whatever the euphemism of choice is today you are allowed to be obsessed with your own race. And to be able to parade around as some kind of enlightened person. Sorry, baby, everyone else knows you are a fool Ms. Obie is a phony and not a genuine phony like Ms. Golightly.

  7. If you learn history from movies, well there’s the problem right there. A good film is made for an enlightened audience. You can’t just show up cold.

  8. Here is the deal, if you don’t like this version of the movie, make your own version and stop barking about the inaccuracies. Hollywood will NEVER be accurate because the truth doesn’t sell tickets.

  9. Great movie !!! Go see the movie and enjoy the movie for the way it is. All this criticism is a bunch of BS. Sometimes I believe people would suffocate white they were trying to figure out “Why is there air ?”

    1. I agree. A great movie and funny as well. Very well cast and entertaining. It’s NOT an educational documentary. Unfortunately, if you were born later that about 1955, you don’t remember 1962. Has everyone forgotten that it largeley about Bronx Italians? Screw who thinks they’re “woke”

  10. Hollowood is for sale and Google with China controls America’s new propaganda….brainwashing machine.
    They are just waiting for all the old conservatives to die off, so to start building their… **Utopian New World Disorder** all for the young and dumb.

  11. It’s too much for social justice warriors to admit that blacks and whites can and do actually get along. Next they’ll probably want to ban interracial marriage.

  12. Any movie in which “race” is an issue that does not soundly castigate whites, and seek to hold them accountable and make them feel guilty for their ongoing white privilege (for which reparations are clearly due), should be banned!

  13. Other than a handful of 1964 automobiles and the highly improbable outhouse, in an even more unlikely spot, for the colored help (as opposed to a single toilet in the service area, as even our house had) the film depicts a nation I experienced first hand at the time.

  14. The Green Book was an excellent movie. Many people see this simply as a movie about a black person and a white person, but it is not. It is a movie about two human beings from different cultures who think they know the other person because of stereotypes. Tony Lipp starts out with some racial attitude but quickly comes to admire and respect Dr. Shirley and learns a lot from him. Dr. Shirley starts out with similar attitudes about Tony Lipp and ultimately comes to admire and respect him too. Presuming that the movie was factual Tony Lipp showed no racial animus toward Dr. Shirley and in fact continuously expressed incredulity and outrage over the way Dr. Shirley was treated. Even in the homosexual scene Tony Lipp expressed no judgement on the issue and refused to leave Dr. Shirley’s employment. Over the course of eight weeks in 1962 these two men were able to talk about a lot of issues, discover the goodness in each other, and discover many things about themselves. Their friendship lasted a lifetime. Imagine what the United States would be like today if we all could do the same.

  15. I don’t go to movies to be taught anything. I go to movies to be entertained. Unfortunately, I did not see one comment that said thismovie has a compelling story line, and will entertain the audience.I don’t care if the movie is historically accurate, as long as it entertains me. Barack Obama set race relations back 30 years, and made many white people totally indifferent to whatever happened, or happens, to blacks. This has taken away a large part of the white audience for movies like this, and without white support, the black population, at less than 12% of America, will not save movies like this.

  16. Why Viggo Mortensen a Danish-American actor and not an Italian-American actor? Why that’s totally inappropriate. It’s lewd, lascivious, salacious, outrageous. Furthermore, it’s Cultural Appropriation writ large, It’s an infringement on the Italian culture. It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.
    Nope, no more Kiri Te Kanawas or Leontyne Prices singing opera..no, no. no.
    This aggression will not stand man.

  17. Well they “black washed” Don Shiipley. Who has a very white complexion . It older terms he would have been known as high yellow. They also bloacked-out that Don Shiplley is homosexual. Telling that they used a very dark-skinned African. It is also telling they did not make the character very gay , or “nelly” such as Don Shipley is. Not knocking the real man , he is an upstanding individual and good pianist, but that film lied alot about him .

  18. In the larger scheme of things, it really WAS whites who rescued blacks. At least the Republicans did. It was Republicans who ran the Underground Railroad, fought against the Dems’ Jim Crow laws and fought segregationists like Democrats Bull Connor and George Wallace. Were it not for whites’ efforts on behalf of blacks it would be a far different world than it is today.

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