Green Book locked horns with three other potent films, Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, to win the 2019 Oscar for the best film. Green Book, that revolves around the story of a black jazz pianist’s budding camaraderie with a white driver when they were travelling together through the Deep South, entranced us by emerging victorious in the event. However, it has also been criticised for the way it handled racial conflict and was labelled a ‘white stereotypical movie.’
Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, Green Book celebrates the unlikely friendship between piano maestro Don Shirley and his chauffeur Tony Vallelonga. The film, directed by Peter Farrelly, with Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in lead roles, received five nominations and won three including the best film, best supporting actor, and best original screenplay.
“The story is about love,” said Peter Farrelly, the writer, producer and director of the film, in his acceptance speech. Green Book weathered the criticism that it was retrograde and doesn’t deserve to prevail over the other acclaimed films and became the winner.
We have conducted some research into the scandals and controversies that surround the film and found these 10 things that you too need to know:
A chance moment sparked a friendship between Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen before Green Book:
It was a big luncheon with a bunch of amazing actors where they met. Both of them felt alien there and bonded with each other immediately, as Mahershala Ali recalled during the Hollywood Reporter‘s Actor Roundtable. It was a chance moment around two years ago that brought them closer. However, they were meant to hit upon each other later and star in this film.
It hinges on a true story of the father of Nick Vallenlonga, one of the film’s writers:
Nick Vallelonga, one of the writers of this film, penned down this story of his father about building a relationship with classical pianist Don Shirley. He wanted his father’s story to be known, a dream that he envisioned ever since he was a teenager. However, Vallelonga started writing this story after both his father and Don Shirley passed away in 2013.
Viggo Mortensen was previously approached for the role multiple times, but to no avail:
It took a lot of elbow-greasing for Viggo Mortensen to prepare himself for essaying the role of Tony Lip. The film’s director used every opportunity to coax him for the role. Viggo was half convinced but he still feared to take up such a challenging role. According to Jim Burke, the producer of the film, Mortensen may have thought that he was too old to play the role. He probably also had inhibitions towards portraying a powerful Italian-American because he was neither as brawny as the character nor was his Italian accent was suitable. However, Viggo took it upon himself to put on 50 to 60 pounds that gave his character a realistic feel. He is a true perfectionist!
Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen gave the eagle’s eye to their characters:
Both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali broke a sweat to learn as much as they could about their respective characters. Mortensen told THR that he absorbed anything that was said, written, or documented about Vallelonga. He said that he even started listening to the same kind of music that the film’s protagonist would listen to. On the other hand, Mahershala Ali learned piano comprehensively from Kris Bower, the American composer and pianist. Further, he watched Little Bohemia, a documentary about Carnegie Hall and the artists who graced the venue to perfect his mannerisms to play Dr Shirley effortlessly.
Composer Kris Bowers was roped in to play Mahershala Ali’s piano double and create the score of the film:
Composer Kris Bowers, the pianist who has worked with industry bigwigs like Kanye West and Jay-Z, played Mahershala Ali’s piano double in the film. Bowers learned and recorded all of Shirley’s music for the film and carried many other significant responsibilities on his shoulders, including training Ali on the basics of piano.
The film’s screenwriter Brian Curie was about to board one of the 9/11 flights:
The film’s screenwriter Brian Curie had a scheduled flight on time back in 2001. Had he boarded the flight, the film would fall in shambles. Director Peter Farrelly revealed at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival that Curie nearly boarded American Airlines flight 11, one of the passenger flights that rammed into The World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.
The film put on pause a TV show named “Green Book” on the same subject:
The TV series, produced by Stan Brooks and directed by filmmaker Chandus Jackson, was set to explore the subject from a different viewpoint. It wanted to unravel the meaning behind the physical green book, also known as The Negro Motorist Green Book (a guide book written by Victor Hugo Green to help African-American motorists avoid racist encounters by giving importance to the black-owned businesses and stores that served the African-American community) instead of focusing on the friendship between Don and Tony. But, after learning about the release of the film, they chose to shelve their program. However, they resumed their plans upon learning that the film had nothing to do with the original Green Book.
The Academy didn’t approve of the film’s music to win an Oscar:
Despite Kris Bowers doing a commendable job with the background score, the film didn’t receive the nod for the best original score nomination for the Oscars. The score sub-committee for the Academy’s music branch deemed that the film’s composition didn’t match up to the standards of rule 15, Section-II E which read, “A score shall not be eligible if 1. It has been diluted by the use of pre-existing music, or 2. It has been diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs or any music not composed specifically for the film by submitting composer.” Going by what the sources told THR, the presence of original music in the film only is for 25 minutes, while the rest of it is inspired by pre-existing music.
The filmmakers deducted a scene that was shot at a plantation house:
A scene that was shot at an enormous North Carolina Plantation House was withdrawn from the final cut of Green Book, as revealed by the producer Jim Burke to THR. In the scene, Tony and Dr Shirley land on the house to eat dinner. They are served food like chicken and corn on the cob. While others gorge on the food with silverware, Tony picks up the chicken and corn with his hands, which prompts everyone else to follow. Tony then tells Dr Shirley, “See, this is the way people do it.” Burke said, “We wound up cutting that scene because it was a long way around for a laugh.”
The kingpins of the movie got their names mired in controversies:
Green Book had been controversy’s favourite child always. Some critics dismissed the film citing lack of authenticity. If that was not all, some key figures of this film had to eat a humble pie for their past actions. Some ghosts of the past kept haunting them!
Screenwriter Nick Vallelonga had to apologise for a controversial past tweet of 2015 that reappeared out of the blue. The tweet was touted to be anti-Muslim, in which Nick Vallelonga agreed with the then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s claim that thousands of people were seen cheering when the World Trade Centre reduced to debris. Nick Vallelonga addressed a tweet to Trump where he wrote, “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when the towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news.” However, he was compelled to delete this tweet and render an apology that read, “I want to apologise. I spent my life trying to bring this story of overcoming differences and finding common ground to the screen, and I am incredibly sorry to everyone associated with Green Book.”
Meanwhile, Viggo Mortensen too had to apologise for using the N-word (the disreputable Nigger) during a Q&A for the film. Further, in his statement concerning the incident, he apologised saying that the N-word causes immense hurt especially when it comes from a white man. He also added that he despises racism personally.
Green Book took home the most prestigious award on 25th February 2019 and producer Jim Burke called the honour a ‘dream’, perhaps rightly so!