For more than 30 years, The Negro Motorist Green Book was an essential handbook for African-Americans travelling through segregated America, where they ventured at their own risk.
The Green Book listed restaurants and accommodations that allowed black guests and gave tips on avoiding trouble in the Jim Crow South. Thankfully, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed the kind of racial discrimination that had made the book necessary and it ceased publication. Green Book, the movie, is a timely reminder of how, just a few decades ago, there were whole parts of the U.S. where segregation and racism were alive and well.
Green Book is inspired by the true story of Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), the acclaimed black New York City pianist, who, in 1962, decided to push boundaries and tour the U.S. Midwest and segregated South. In need of a chauffeur/protector to deliver him safely to his performances, he hires Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American bouncer who has recently become unemployed. The two are an unlikely pair: uncultured, ill-mannered, working-class and admittedly racist Tony the driver for the impeccably-mannered, well-educated (Doctorate in Psychology), and dignified Dr. Shirley. Tony’s job is to keep the car on the road, keep to the schedule and keep an eye on the Green Book. The further South they travel, the more they’re subjected to threats, physical danger and humiliation. Even Tony recognizes the hypocrisy of applauding someone’s talent one minute, then relegating him to an outdoor lavatory the next.
During their two-month tour, Tony becomes not just a confidante and admirer but a friend, too – something all too rare in Shirley’s well-heeled but solitary life. As the seemingly opposite men get to know each other, they gain a mutual respect and affection.
Although Green Book, which just won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), paints a very real picture of intolerance in 1962 America, the movie is surprisingly funny. Mahershala Ali won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, but Viggo Mortensen as the grating yet hilarious Tony, is equally sensational. Entertaining from start to finish, Green Book is an emotionally uplifting and moving story about friendship and race. As Director Peter Farrelly said in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, “If Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga can find common ground, we all can.”
Green Book runs for a week at the Salmar Classic from Friday, Jan. 11 to Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Some coarse language.