Almost anything we say can be taken out of context, and be considered offensive to someone else – even if we do not mean to offend anyone. They used to say before, “people can’t take a joke”, but these days it’s more than that – when the point of your humor is a discriminating or derogatory even in the slightest way, expect “woke” Twitter to chase after you online.
The topic on self-identification is one of those very heated discussions. You may have noticed an uproar of people being asked not to say the “n- word” whether in music (rap songs especially) or talking to a person of color. Most people do not see the reasoning as to why they shouldn’t say it, and they are accused of being ignorant; that they don’t know the real history behind it.
Year 2018 has released a number of films dominated by people of color, with acclaimed examples such as Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman (both also directed by people of color). Other films like The Hate U Give and Blindspotting tackled the societal difference between African-Americans and caucasians, the former suffering a tad more for many years. Another film joins their ranks in showcasing racial differences, adding a little lightness with humor while not straying away from the message of racial status (minor spoilers ahead).
Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly (known for comedy films like Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal, and There’s Something About Mary), tells the story of Italian-American tough guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga working as the driver for African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley, during the early 1960s as he goes on tour in the Jim Crow South – states in the USA where racial segregation were heavily enforced. At the recent 76th Golden Globes, Green Book came away with three wins (Best Picture – Comedy, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali).
The movie gets its name from the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook for road tripping African-Americans indicating places they were allowed to eat or stay in. With an award-winning screenplay by Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga (who remembered the interviews his father had with Don, as well as Tony’s letters to his mother), Tony and Don’s relationship in the entire tour is one that will make either your sides ache, or your heart. With playful banter of their clashing personalities, the film has a turnaround every time the pair entered a new city state.
Viggo Mortensen underwent such a transformation from his more iconic role as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings series, and even more from his Oscar-nominated role in Captain Fantastic. Putting on more than 40 pounds and his knowledge of Italian to work, he gave life to Tony Lip as if he grew up in the Bronx himself. Academy Award (and now Golden Globe) winner Mahershala Ali was the perfect counterpart for Mortensen to portray Don Shirley, exuding class and politeness – at the same time a victim of loneliness and oppression.
Throughout the entire tour, one wonders how these two individuals with extremely different ideals would get along for eight weeks. There were many points of heated arguments between them, which we will not share, because Green Book is a film that deserves to be watched.
Though there is one discussion that stood out because masking behind what could be taken as the truth was the sad reality of wrong self-identification. In the middle of torrid weather, Tony gets angry at Don’s notion that he understands his struggles of living. Tony berates him for having so much money, living atop Carnegie Hall, and being invited to many fancy places; meanwhile, he has to work night shifts, struggling for money in the Bronx, thus announcing he was “as black as he was.” That moment caught Don, and I, in a stunned silence.
For anyone who doesn’t understand why we shouldn’t use the “n- word,” Don’s reaction is all the explanation you need. He dictates the historical sufferings that African-Americans have had to endure for decades, that he himself is treated just as such in every fancy event he’s invited to because he is still black; how then could Tony have the gall to say that he is as “black as he was.”
It shouldn’t have to take an argument for us to realize that it is wrong to use any kind of derogatory terms. Just because Kanye or Drake uses it, doesn’t mean everyone can too – simply relating to what a song or person expresses doesn’t give us an excuse to identify with their whole community. We have not experienced what they themselves have gone through, nor the people in their society.
We have to accept that we are all different, and rather than identify with others (especially from a different community), we must understand and respect them. Tony’s change of heart after eight weeks with Don, and the lasting friendship that came after, are the lessons that Farrelly hopes we take away from Green Book. Behind all the banter is a relationship that blossomed because the two understood what the other was going through. If we can learn that kind of communal respect, then, we ourselves become better persons.
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