Does Loving the Film, ‘Green Book’ Make Me a Racist?

My Dear Friends,

I have a new friend. He is nice. He is black. I am white. I didn’t mean to but I offended him.

Here is the backstory…

In December 2018, I saw the film, Green Book. I flipped. I loved it. No, I mean I really loved it. I was in the local movie art house and there was hardly anyone else watching with me. I would say maybe 10 people at most. I laughed. I cried. I thought Viggo Moretensen and Mahershala Ali were beyond brilliant. I ached for each of them in the many cathartic moments of the film. I was enraged at the America that made it necessary to publish a horror like Green Book.

I was beyond the stratosphere at the music. Don Shirley’s classical music background blending with a jazz originality to create a sound that kept my head, my hands, my feet, and my heart moving constantly every time he played. (Just so you have all the information… the pianist, Kris Bowers, composed the movie score and played the piano parts and he too is brilliant.)

I’m glad the theatre was empty. The way I was swinging with the music, I may have been asked to leave.

And when it was over, I stood up as in those rare standing ovation moments at the theatre. I say rare because for me to stand means to know you have witnessed a genius rarity not likely to happen again. I yelled, “BRAVO!” I applauded. I was ignored as the very few fellow audience members left, walking rapidly, perhaps nervous that some cuckoo was on furlow for a matinee.

I practically danced up the aisle. As I left the theatre, the ticket taker was standing at the door. She is black. I stopped. I took her hand. She withdrew it. Undaunted, I gushed my enthusiasm for the film. I asked if she had seen the movie. She looked hard at me. She said in a very clear voice. “No! I don’t watch rubbish.”

I guess that should have been my first clue. But, I ignored it. I couldn’t wait to get home and call my near and dear ones. If they ever wanted to see or speak to me again they needed to pass the test of seeing this movie.

Fast forward to the next day after the Academy Award ceremony…

Don’t hit me.  I didn’t watch.  I never watch.  They always leave out the one movie I thought was really great or the actor or the writer…and basically, I am not sure about awarding best anything to any artist.  The competition is within  the artist.  Don’t tell me someone is better than someone else.  I don’t believe you can compare apples and oranges.  However, God forbid the money men and women don’t make their money back on their product.  And for them, it isn’t about art.  It is about “product”.

All to say, if they called my name for an Oscar, I’d probably be there.

My new friend and I were talking about the Oscars.  Those who know me know.  Those who don’t know me are pretty sure.  I have an opinion on everything.  Ask my daughters.

I had read Spike Lee was angered by Green Book’s big win. I opined that it might be sour grapes.  I had seen his film, BlacKkKlansman and thought it was great. The perfect example of trying to compare apples and oranges.  

My friend said he enjoyed Green Book, but he was also in agreement with Spike Lee. For him, the Academy was doing its usual thing. Rewarding the white man as he rescued the black man. Another movie to make the whites feel good.

I don’t often keep my own counsel. I continued on and on about how Green Book detailed the possibility of a bigot changing his tune. And isn’t that what is needed in a world gone mad with so much hate and bile. A world growing more and more into “them and us”.  Separating humans of ever color from each other.

As I pontificated, I assured him, I knew what he was feeling.

There came a very pregnant pause. A close to delivery pregnant pause. The pause was so awkward it actually shut my faucet mouth.

After some time, we broke the pause with banal conversation. Not going near the subject, we talked awhile and then said goodbye.

After we parted, I recalled what I had been saying. What was it that brought about the pause that did not refresh? As I did, I realized my new friend had been trying to tell me something without telling me something. No matter we are both minorities. I am Jewish and a woman. But I am white. He is black. I cannot and will never know what it feels like to be black.

Later that same day, I wrote an apology. I wrote that of course I could never know how he feels. I have had some of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune thrown my way, but against being born black in this world, past or present, not comparable.

He acknowledged my apology. We have not continued the discussion. Hopefully someday we will. Slow and steady as the friendship deepens, anything is possible.

“The Blind Are Also Color Blind”
Photo taken at Foundation for the Junior Blind Summer Camp, Los Angeles,CA by Doug Wilson.

I don’t know. I do know there are those who want to see a better world.  Me, for one.  And for me, a better world would be one where we all wake up one morning and find we are color blind.  If that were true, then Green Book and BlacKkKlansman and all movies about race would be Fairy Tales. A collection of very Grimm Fairy Tales.

Is it possible?

As long as we are still breathing the world of possibilities will always exist? Right?

Of course, Right!

Love, Sally-Jane


P.S. It seems no matter where I turn, going to the movies, reading a book, I am surrounded by with racism, bigotry, and the inherent anger, resentment and frustration.

In a recent biography of Frederick Douglass, David W. Blight writes of an event which occurred in Washington, D.C. on the 11th anniversary of the end of the Civil War as well as the 11th year anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  At the unveiling of a monument honoring Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, with President Ulysses S. Grant and all of official Washington present, Frederick Douglass spoke:

It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man…

He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration… My white fellow-citizens… you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.

Excerpt from oration delivered by Frederick Douglas at the Unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14 1876

That speech was given in 1876. It is 2019. Have things changed? Externally, yes.

However, haven’t I been reading how the Executive Branch, the Congress, our Supreme Court are colluding and searching for ways to limit and deconstruct the civil rights legislation LBJ pushed through after JFK’s assassination.

Isn’t this what happened to the promises of Reconstruction after the Civil War?

I think this is the time to bring out my favorite Voltaire quote (a very dear, very old, very close friend of mine),

“History doesn’t repeat itself.  People do.”

The Birth of a Nation – 1915

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