Movie Review – The Green Book

The Green Book

First, an explanation for the title; unless you are familiar with “The Green Book” the movie title can be a bit off-putting. The movie is not about the book, but about the fact that the book was necessary during the 1962 setting of the movie. Once I had seen the movie by this title and had done some brief research I felt differently. The book was actually entitled  “The Negro Motorist Green Book” (and sometimes “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book”). 

This guidebook for African-American travelers during the Jim Crow era was written by a New York Postman, Victor Green. “The Green Book” at first covered only New York City, but later the author included most of the US and much of Canada. It was published annually from 1936-1966 so that African-American travelers would know where they were allowed to eat, rent a motel room or even buy gas. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was no longer a necessity for black people traveling. Interestingly the book is in print once again for students of the Jim Crow period.


The Movie

In a word, the movie is great! It has comedic moments, but the serious subject is racial discrimination in America during the Jim Crow era. Mahershala Ali plays Dr. Shirley, a black genius who holds various degrees, speaks several languages and is a gifted pianist. He is pretentious and except for his butler is pretty much alone in the world. Dr. Shirley’s passion is classical music, but he has to compromise and play the music expected of a black man, jazz. When he books a tour that takes him deep into the South he hires a driver for the eight-week trip. The story unfolds during that timeframe.

The driver is “Tony Lip” played by Viggo Mortensen. He’s an out of work Italian club bouncer who takes the driver’s job because he needs the money. Tony is somewhat racist and one wonders how this arrangement can possibly work for these two men. It is rocky from the start and I will leave it there rather than spoil it for you.

This true story about real people is well worth your time.