Green Book

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Think of this movie as “Driving Miss Daisy” of a different color.

Instead of an old black guy driving around an old white lady, we have a testy white guy (Viggo Mortensen) driving around a black guy (Mahershala Ali), a world famous musician.

Tony Lip is an Italian-American bouncer hired as driver for Dr. Donald Walbridge Shirley, a world-class pianist making a concert tour across the Deep South during the ‘60s. As the pair cross below the Mason-Dixon line, they must rely on “The Negro Motorist’s Green Book” (hence the film’s title), a guide telling them were to find safe lodging for African Americans.

Good luck with that.

If you had a way with words and a compassionate heart, you could write the script. Of course, these intrepid travelers encounter racism, danger, and adversity. Forced to bond together to survive this journey, they come to terms with each other’s differences.

“Green Book” is offering its make-you-wince dramedy this week at Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Peter Farrelly (one of those notorious Farrelly Brothers who do puerile comedies like “Dumb and Dumber”), Pete proves he’s got what it takes to make a serious film. “Green Book” won the Toronto International Film Festival’s prestigious People’s Choice Award.

The film’s title come from the real-life “Green Book” written by Victor Hugo Green. A black former postal employee from Harlem, Green wrote this guide for road-trippers of color. Published from 1936 to 1966, Green reviewed hotels and restaurants that did business with African Americans during the time of Jim Crow. He printed 15,000 copies each year.

Originally compiling data on stores and motels and gas stations in the New York City area, Green’s guide was so popular that the next year he expanded its coverage to other U.S. destinations, adding hotel and restaurants as well.

Although the “Green Book” continued to be published by Green’s wife after his passing, it finally ended in 1966, two years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. The law made discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal, eliminating (in theory) the need for the “Green Book.” Such was the goal Green HAD described in the introduction to the first edition of his work.

The screenplay for “Green Book” was written by Nick Vallelonga, based on an actual trip made by his father Tony Lip and pianist Don Shirley.

Tony Lip went on to become an actor, appearing in many films and TV shows, including “The Godfather.” He was best known for playing New York crime boss Carmine Lupartazzi in the HBO series “The Sopranos.”

Art follows life. And Don Shirley followed the “Green Book.”

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