When Green Book first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the coveted People’s Choice Award, it became an Oscar contender right out of the gate. Since then, it has won practically every audience award at each festival it has screened at and has become pegged as a potential Best Picture frontrunner.
Given how the film is a crowd pleaser for people to escape to in these dark times, it’s not hard to see why it would be seen as a film for audiences and voters to easily latch onto. However, while the film is well-intended, it does feel a bit antiquated to have this film emerge as a frontrunner. Before I go further, allow me to say that I’m not intending to crush the film’s Oscar hopes solely because it has been labeled as a frontrunner. I’m just explaining why I think it feels awkward for this film to claim its frontrunner status.
As previously mentioned, the film’s heart is in the right place with its light depiction of a real-life friendship facing racial adversity. However, in a year full of well-reviewed films depicting the black experience by minority filmmakers like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry To Bother You, and Widows, it is rather ironic that a film about racism chiefly from the perspective of a white protagonist by a white filmmaker is emerging on top.
My guess is that because Green Book is a film that doesn’t have much political urgency despite dealing with race, it is one that people feel like they want to reward. But because the aforementioned seven films are deeper deconstructions of race and depict relevant themes such as police brutality, class, identity, and also gender, those are the kind of films that we need to reward.
Not to mention, this year has potential to be one where a black filmmaker could win Best Director which, in the 90-year history of the Oscars, has never happened before. Think about it. They’ve honored Latino filmmakers in the past and finally gave it to a woman after 83 years but they’ve never given it to a black director. Given this incredible year for films depicting the black experience, a filmmaker like Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee, or Steve McQueen could emerge a frontrunner. Because a Best Picture frontrunner often coincides with the Best Director frontrunner, the films these directors have done emerging on top would only add to the powerful narrative of them potentially winning.
In retrospect, the case of Green Book provides shades of last year where Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri became a frontrunner. Even though that film was rather rough around the edges, it still ironically felt like a safe choice because it didn’t make viewers confront their internal racism in the same manner as a film like Get Out. It was also another film dealing with American racism told primarily from the point of view of white characters. Thankfully, the character of Doc Shirley in Green Book isn’t a background character in the same manner as the minority characters in Three Billboards are. However, he is still rather underdeveloped and in a film that pays little attention to the guidebook where Green Book gets its title from.
Like I said, this is not about tearing down a film because it seems like it’s on top or even because it’s a safe crowd pleaser. There’s no harm in wanting to reward a film that makes people feel good. This is more about audiences and voters not just immediately latching onto what films are the most accessible. More of us should be more accessible to films that are challenging even if some of them aren’t the easiest pills to swallow.
For instance, The Hate U Give may not be an easy pill to swallow but it is a vital, multi-faceted piece of filmmaking that presents working class African-Americans dealing with oppression from the police force along with tribulations within their own community; Sorry To Bother You is a portrayal of sacrificing your identity to survive in a capitalist world and is done with razor sharp, satirical wit; And Widows is a masterful morality tale about four women, three of them being women of color, trying to bite back at a dog eat dog world of toxic masculinity and is more than just a popcorn heist thriller. Also, if people want to see a well-done, timely film about an interracial friendship, Blindspotting is currently available on streaming.
Since diversity isn’t just limited to black representation, we also have the release of Roma, a Spanish language film about a working class maid serving an affluent family that shatters the negative stereotypes towards Mexican people that have been perpetuated by Donald Trump. Plus, Crazy Rich Asians was a smash hit that served as a touchstone for Asian representation and should be recognized for its cultural significance along with its quality.
In conclusion, in a year full of critical and/or financial achievements about people of color by minority filmmakers, it does feel rooted in the past to have a movie about racism primarily told through a white male lens labeled as a frontrunner. After recently showing signs of progression by awarding both Moonlight and The Shape Of Water with the Best Picture prize, we shouldn’t have to make those wins feel anomalous. Lastly, we shouldn’t have to immediately latch onto films that make us feel good.
As previously mentioned, Green Book may be a safe crowd pleaser that people feel like they want to reward and even though I wasn’t a huge fan of it, it still is adequate for what it is. But there are other films from this year that provide more political urgency that I feel need to be rewarded.
Because there is no limit to what films a person can enjoy, there’s no harm in liking both Green Book and something like Widows. But at the same time, as the conversation about AMPAS moving forward and being progressive continues, their progression should continue to be reflected in their Best Picture choices.