Green Book won Best Picture at the Oscars last night.
First, let me say that Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are great actors.
The plot to this movie? Not so much.
This outline of the story was original once... back when Mark Twain put Huck and Jim on a raft 130 years ago.
Since then some variation on this fairy tale has been put on screen a thousand times: some saintly white person discovers that the people of India have rights and grievances; that street people struggle with unseen burdens and deserve some respect; that the mentally ill are not evil or animals; and that gay people can feel pain and even bleed.
The premise to all these movies is that if an acceptable white person and an oppressed minority of some type spend time talking to each other, they can find their common humanity.
The audience for this story is almost entirely white.
Whites are the heroes because they are in the transformative roles.
It is not the oppressed that are enlightened, but the oppressors.
And what is the audience to think in the end? They are supposed to think the fully able heterosexual white person was "mighty white" to extend civility and common decency to a person who was not white, fully able, and heterosexual.
Time and time again we are told that the oppressed will forgive the oppressor. It will all be peace, love, and understanding if the white people in power just stop being violent assholes.
That's the plot line in every movie... but one.
The exception is Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
What made Do the Right Thing groundbreaking was that it dared to suggest proximity might not lead to love and understanding; that it might not erase all the feelings of rage, fear, and retribution that defined so many lives for so long.
It says quite a lot that white audiences universally left Do the Right Thing scratching their heads
Why did Mookie throw the trash can through Sal's window?
They just didn't get it. What was THAT about?
Spike Lee's plot twist was so far out of bounds that white folks didn't have a star to steer by. They were confused.
That's not how these movies about race are supposed to end.
White people are supposed to be forgiven, and white people are supposed to be applauded for finally realizing that doing violence to billions of people for hundreds of years might not be right ... and perhaps should end... some time in the future.
Surely the oppressed will be grateful that some individual white person has come to this stunning revelation on their own?
Over on Twitter, Jemele Hill started a thread that quickly picked up steam.
Green Book thinks you’re so articulate
In quick succession, a thousand fingers piled on:
- Green Book dated a black guy in college.
- Green Book wants you to see both sides.
- Green Book wants to know if you're finding everything okay in the store.
- Green book would’ve voted for Obama a third time.
- Green Book wants you to know Blue Lives Matter.
- Green Book is very concerned about the level of gun violence in Chicago.
- Green Book moved to this neighborhood for its vibrance and culture, and also calls the police at least three times a week.
- Green Book wishes they'd just keep politics out of football.
- Green Brook thinks a rising tide lifts all boats.
- Green Book is all for diversity in schools but doesn't think their kids should be used in some experiment.
- Green Book thinks you’re quite pretty to be so dark.
- Green Book is not a racist. He has black friends.
- Green Book wants you to “make your people proud” and go to college.
- Green Book has evolved into "not seeing color at all."
- Green Book says you’re the prettiest black girl they’ve ever seen.
- Green Book thinks we should stop talking about identity politics.
- Green Book would’ve voted for Condoleezza Rice though.
- Green Book loves how exotic your skin is and wishes they could get a tan like that.
- Green Book wants to know why you can use N-word but Green Book can’t.
- Green Book sometimes calls Jamie Foxx "Will Smith".
- Green Book thinks the Civil War was mainly about economics.
- Green Book is acutely aware of Reverse Racism.
- Green Book and Howard Schultz grew up in the same projects
- Green Book donated to the NAACP this month at work.
- Green Book thinks Colin Kaepernick is misguided, but seems like a smart articulate guy who really believes in what he’s doing.
- Green Book wants to touch your hair.
- Green Book went to Avery and has a mixed cousin that attends Hillman.
- Green Book marched with Bernie and Dr. King.
- Green Book believes all lives matter.
- Green Book never owned slaves and doesn’t see why it should be punished for things that happened centuries before it was filmed!
- Green Book wants to speak to your manager.
- Green Book says Irish immigrants had it just as bad as the slaves.
- Green Book thinks you got into that ivy league because of affirmative action in spite of Green Book being a C-student at best.
- Green Book would like to thank the man without whom Green Book would not have been made — Viggo Mortensen.
- Green Book thinks you'd be prettier if you straightened your hair.
- Green Book said Trump and Hillary are the same and voted for Jill Stein in 2016.
|Writer/Director Ryan Coogler|
What else can be said about the Oscars?
This: A more interesting and substantive movie did NOT win Best Picture.
No that movie was NOT "A Star I Born" (complete pabulum) or "Black Klansman" (a one line joke used as a movie pitch ).
That movie was Black Panther.
The plot of Black Panther explores the question of how to preserve culture and identity in a melting pot that either: 1) does not value your cultural and economic contributions, or; 2) wants to steal and appropriate those contributions and claim them as their own.
This is as good a plot as anything Mark Twain ever came up with. Full props to writer/producer Ryan Coogler for the movie, and to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who created the character and the overarching plot line.
America preaches the Gospel of Integration, but that mostly means other cultures are supposed to fold up their tents and embrace secularism, strip malls, fast food, and blue jeans.
Black Panther asks questions so novel they have almost never been asked before:
- Is there something to be gained by saving what is entirely unique?
- What price do immigrants pay by becoming entirely American?
- What of those who live life with one foot on the dock of the past, and one foot on the boat of the future? Can they hope to avoid troubled water?
- What is the psychological burden of having your past stripped away, even as your present crumbles around you?
- Can a person live without roots? Can a root survive without water, soil, sunshine, and opportunity?
Black Panther does not give definitive answers.
Like Hamlet, it leaves the audience searching for "correct" answers, or at least the ones intended by the writers and director.
In that way -- the failure to make it simple and obvious -- Black Panther soars into cinematic greatness, bridging questions that span divides by asking each of us to think.
How rare is that?
How great does a movie have to be to achieve this feat?