“Green Book,” a warm and insightful road-film exposing race dynamics and identity tensions in the US through its buddy-drama, opened in theaters on Thanksgiving eve to rave reviews but lackluster audiences.

After two weekends in general release, it’s cumulative box office total is $14 million, and it’s ranked in the box office top 10.

Since its initial film festival opening, there’s been Oscar buzz surrounding this film.

Based on a true story, in the early 1960s, the movie is the real-life story of musician Don Shirley and tough guy/chauffeur Tony Lip, who are complete opposites. Shirley is a highly-educated African-American who lives above Carnegie Hall playing classical music for audiences. Lip, is an Italian-American from the Bronx who works in security but agrees to be Shirley’s driver through the south.

Shirley was a musical prodigy who sat down at a piano at age 2; played much of the standard concert repertory by age 10; and made his concert debut at age 18, playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat with the Boston Pops. Before collecting two honorary degrees and an apartment above Carnegie Hall, the Florida-born musician was told by a manager that American audiences were not ready to accept a “colored” pianist.

As such, the musician rerouted his passion—melding his beloved classical music with more popular genres, like jazz, and playing the unrefined nightclubs he despised. Two decades after the tour, Shirley still bristled about the way he had to corral his career because of his skin color.

Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Lip in the film and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, plays Shirley.

While it might be easy to dismiss this as an inverted “Driving Miss Daisy,” this has a more politically aware and acceptable racial role reversal going for it. Through the eyes of Tony, we encounter a gradually escalating set of injustices and prejudices Shirley had to endure because of his skin color as they head deeper south. Via this enlightening experience, Tony goes through a redemptive arc that begins with him having similar prejudices and finishes with him rejecting and turning around his erroneous ways just in time for Christmas.

Despite its message, the heartwarming and largely lighthearted film is pegged as a mainstream feel-good film. Director Peter Farrelly, known previously for very different films like “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” brings a light touch to the subversive drama.

Though the film’s message is uplifting and timely, the film failed to draw an audience. Thanksgiving weekend the film finished ninth, with a cumulative gross of under $8 million.

Critics of color have also slammed the project for focusing most of its attention on Vallelonga’s story, privileging his viewpoint. The controversy raises the question of whether getting any Don Shirley movie is better than not getting a Don Shirley movie.

However, maybe it’s just a case of a stereotypical movie duo that America has grown tired of.

Green Book is a “both sides” movie, writes reviewer Mark Harris for the website vulture.com., which he describes as a 50-year plus tradition in American

A “both sides” movies, writes Harris, is designed to be appealing to White Americans who see themselves as non-racists and on the other side, to Black people who, in this version of the American narrative, almost have something to learn themselves. Think, the redneck cop and Virgil Tibbs in the “Heat of the Night,” Gene Hackman’s ex-sheriff is in 1988’s “Mississippi Burning,” Jeff Bridges’s lawman in 2016’s “Hell or High Water” or even the duo in the 1960s television series “I Spy.”

Even though you’ve been there and seen that, the well-directed and –acted movie could deserve your support, especially since there are still lessons to be learned.

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Kurt Oswald

Kurt joined The Community Voice team in 2021 as the company’s chief executive. He is responsible for the business side of the company including sales, distribution, and operations. Kurt brings to the...

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