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Why is Oscar Best Picture winner Green Book facing criticism? Is the critique fair?

The 91st Academy Awards sprung many surprises, and the top award saw no different.

Roma, the Spanish-language Netflix drama from Alfonso Cuarón, was widely expected to take home the Best Picture prize yet Green Book upset the odds to triumph.

It has proved to be an unpopular win, with 1960s-set road-trip being a source of great controversy throughout awards season.

We run you through the main issues, and whether we think they’re justified.

Green Book: Liberties with Fact

A constant issue has been how much of the story portrayed in Green Book is actually true, resulting in a back-and-forth between the producers and the family of Dr Donald Shirley.

The film depicts the relationship between Donald (Mahershala Ali), an African-American musician, and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American who is tasked with driving the pianist through the Deep South for a concert tour.

Relatives of Donald say the film exaggerates the extent of this relationship, making it seem like a close friendship when it was more of an acquaintance. The producers and writers of the film point to Donald’s own version of the event, using interviews with the man to craft the narrative.

(L-R) Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie, winners of Best Picture for ‘Green Book,’ pose in the press room during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Green Book: White Saviour Narrative

The main critique of Green Book is that it simplifies race relations, telling the story from the perspective of the white character.

From this, Green Book has been accused of utilising the ‘white saviour narrative’, with Tony learning more about himself in the presence of Donald.

Green Book: Crew Conduct

If the film’s themes and production didn’t court enough controversy, then the conduct of its crew certainly did. Lead actor Viggo Mortensen came under fire for using a racial term during a Q+A, whilst director Peter Farrelly has been accused of misconduct multiple times.

The biggest cause for concern was the behaviour of Nick Vallelonga, the son of lead character Tony, with the writer of the film caught in a scandal regarding some unsavoury posts on Twitter.

Is the Criticism of Green Book Justified?

Despite the numerous obstacles, the film managed to take the Best Picture prize, with this success being founded on the breezy tone, brilliant performances and humorous screenplay.

Though the film is undeniably simple, this works in its favour, with the inclusive message being something to cherish rather than condemn. The ‘white saviour narrative’ criticism is largely unfounded, with the two lead characters helping each other equally – there is no imbalance here.

Nick’s tweets are certainly concerning, but they can be viewed separately from the film; the conflict of interest between his posts and the message of the film merely paints him as being disingenuous if anything, but it doesn’t change the fact that Green Book is a likeable film.



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