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Richer and Smarter

Saw a really good movie this past weekend, Green Book. It’s basically Driving Miss Daisy in reverse.

Instead of a black man, Morgan Freeman, chauffeuring around a white woman, Jessica Tandy, in this new movie it is a white man, Viggo Mortensen, driving a black man, Mahershala Ali, on a cross-country trip. The new movie, like the older one, addresses issues of race inequality, social inequality and economic inequality.

Viggo plays Tony Lip a rough and tumble, blue collar nightclub bouncer with a thick New York accent who acts as chauffeur and road manager for Mahershala who plays Dr. Don Shirley, a very cultured and wealthy concert pianist who has the crazy idea to do a series of shows in the Deep South during the turbulent 1960s.

Kind of like walking naked and covered in honey into a room full of active beehives. Funny thing is, it’s a true story.

The movie is enjoyable, an equal mixture of humor and drama. Both actors are phenomenal. Viggo will be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, and could possibly win. I wouldn’t complain. Mahershala won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2016’s Moonlight, and he too will probably get an Oscar nod for Green Book.

The title Green Book, by the way, refers to a travel guide back in those days that listed hotels where “coloreds” could stay when traveling since most hotels in the South would only allow white guests. I had no idea that type of guide even existed. I knew about “white-only” restrooms and drinking fountains; I actually saw some of them as a child in Mississippi when my father was stationed there for a year. I even saw some old, broken down signs from “Sundown Towns” when I was a teenager in Louisiana. Those signs stated non-whites were not allowed to be out in public after dark. The Sundown Sign issue accounts for one of the more tense scenes in Green Book.

On the surface the movie seems to be all about the race issue. But it’s just as much about the haves versus the have-nots, the rich versus the poor, the intellectuals versus the unschooled. While the roles in Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are reversed from a skin color standpoint—in Daisy the white woman is the boss, and in Green Book the black man is the boss—the person calling the shots in each movie is still the person who is richer and smarter than the person who is taking the orders.

A friend of my daughter’s made that point at the height of the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. “On the surface this appears to be a black-white thing, but it’s really a rich-poor thing. It’s about people who have nothing fighting against a system run by people who have everything.”

I found that interesting.

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