Let me begin with a confession: I have not seen Green Book, except for a few snatches shown at the Oscars, and other news clips. But I think I can responsibly say something on the basis of having read various critiques of the Academy’s giving the top prize to the film.
The main thing I’ve taken from the critiques I’ve read – which seemed to be attacks from the left — is that Green Book’s tale of a white guy and a black guy making real progress in building a better relationship fails to deal with the real problems of racism in America.
By looking at American racism (and the relationship between whites and blacks) in what some see as a “Driving-Miss-Daisy” way — in 2019 — according to these critics, Green Book missed the point about what has to change.
I hope I got that right, because I’m going on:
It’s not that I disagree at all about the importance of looking at all those other dimensions of American racism — from continued discrimination, to police shootings, to politicians harnessing racist feelings to gain power — are of vital importance.
But what I’d say is that what Green Book apparently dramatized — a change of heart – is also of vital importance.
It was in accepting the Oscar for Best Picture that Green Book director, Peter Farelly, declared, “The whole story is about Love.”
The problem of racism in America may not be all about Love, but I believe that at its spiritual core, Love or its absence is a lot of what the problem of racism in America is about.
The racists persist in dealing with people on the other side of the racial line with hatred, or at least with some of hatred’s accompaniments, like contempt and hostility.
The crucial turning that is required involves — at its core — the replacement of that hatred with Love, or at least with some of its main accompaniments, like Compassion and Good Will Toward Men.
Racism manifests in institutional forms. But it is also at its core a matter of the heart.
If the enactment of a white man undergoing a change of heart toward Love, that seems to me a fine contribution to the overall task of healing America (as best we can) of its racism.
It’s true, Green Book may be easier for white Americans to take than something like Twelve Years a Slave. But it ought not be assumed that the constructive impact of a tale is measured by the discomfort it generates in the audience.
There’s room for both the more comforting, and for the more challenging.
And the turn toward love is hardly irrelevant to the healing America needs.
Postscript: Where does the disposition of the human heart fit into the overall saga of white racism?
It should be recalled that Alexander Stephens — who was then soon to become the Vice President of the Confederacy, and regarded as a Southern moderate — declared the Confederacy to be “founded upon…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”
Surely, making one’s superiority to the other to be the “great truth” on which a society should be founded speaks ill of the state of one’s heart. Certainly, that insistence on superiority is not consistent with “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Cultures change but slowly, especially at their deepest level. And part of the change that is needed for American culture to move past White Supremacy is a change of heart.
Only the heartless could respond as the American right has to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, arising out of the spate of videos of white policemen killing unarmed black men (and boys). (The total lack of heartfelt sympathy in that right-wing response is to me the most revolting manifestation of white racism I’ve seen in these times.)