Learn the story of the green book at the center of Best Picture-winner 'Green Book' (exclusive)
When the dust settled at this year’s Oscars ceremony, Peter Farrelly’s period drama Green Book emerged as the victor in the eight-film Best Picture race. It’s a choice that proved, shall we say, controversial. Love the movie or hate it, though, few would argue that Green Book leads Mahershala Ali (who won his second Best Supporting Actor statue) and Viggo Mortensen aren’t well-matched as the classical musician Dr. Don Shirley and his chauffeur/bodyguard Frank Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip.
But the real star of Green Book doesn’t make an on-camera appearance in the film. That would be Victor Hugo Green, the New York City postal worker who created the titular book. Green’s legacy is addressed in this exclusive bonus features clip from Green Book‘s upcoming Blu-ray release. (Watch the clip above.)
First published in 1936, The Negro Motorist Green Book (immediately identifiable by its green cover) was a travel guide for African-American tourists traveling the country by car. Relying on a network of fellow postal workers spread throughout the United States, the book directed black travelers to friendly hotels, restaurants and other services, helping them to avoid confrontations with hostile police or locals. “People called it AAA for black people,” explains author Candacy Taylor, who launched The Green Book Project in 2013, cataloguing former Green Book-designated locations. “But it was really so much more. It had drugstores, doctors, taxi services. It was a real testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of a black community.”
With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, the Green Book ceased publication in the mid-1960s. But its purpose feels newly relevant again, at a time when black men and women have repeatedly been subjected to harassment while doing ordinary things like having a BBQ, selling water, or sleeping in the lounge of their college dorm. In 2017, writer Jan Miles even published The Post-Racial Negro Green Book, which documented cases of racial harassment against African-Americans by police and everyday citizens. “There’s a growing movement to tell the full history of our country,” notes preservationist Brent Leggs. “Films like Selma or Hidden Figures and now Green Book, they help to tell a more compelling and authentic American story.”
Early on in Green Book, Dr. Shirley’s record label provides a copy of the guide to Tony as he prepares to chauffeur Don on an extended tour of the South. Even with the guide, the two find themselves in a series of racially charged situations that force them to put aside their differences and become friends. (The extent of their real-life relationship has been hotly debated, after Shirley’s family came out and said the film exaggerated their friendship.) “When you have two people from disparate backgrounds finding a way to coexist together, that speaks to how we need to learn to coexist in society,” explains Green Book executive producer, Octavia Spencer, speaking directly to the driving theme of the film, which clearly rang true with Oscar voters.
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