"Green Book" faces renewed criticism over racial tropes after Oscars win

By Justin Carissimo

/ CBS News

Peter Farrelly's "Green Book" was the surprise winner Sunday evening at the 91st Academy Awards, taking home best picture, along with two other awards, but the win brought back sharp criticism about its accuracy and use of outdated racial tropes. It also drew ire from director Spike Lee, who was nominated in the same category for "BlacKkKlansman."

"I thought I was courtside at the Garden, and the refs made a bad call," Lee told reporters after the show. As the award was announced, The Associated Press reported that Lee threw his hands into the air in disgust and tried to storm out of the ceremony.

The feel-good movie, which is based on a true story, follows the black musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his racist, white chauffeur Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as they drive through the segregated South in 1962. Vallelonga sees his employer denied service from local businesses, and eventually intervenes to protect Shirley.

Brooke Obie of Shadow and Act called it a "poorly titled white savior film." Wendy Ide of the U.K.'s Guardian said the film's approach to race is "at best naive and at worst jaw-droppingly ill-judged."

(L-R) Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie, winners of Best Picture for "Green Book," pose in the press room during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on Sun., Feb. 24, 2019. Getty

Oscar voters, however, seemed to ignore critics who panned the film for containing racial tropes and barely discussing its source material, Victor H. Green's "The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide." The manual informed black travelers of places to avoid and warning signs to look out for — a potentially life-saving document.

The film was criticized by Shirley's family for its portrayal of the musician and his friendship with Vallelonga. Shirley's last living brother, Maurice, told NPR's 1A Movie Club the film is "full of lies."

"It's once again a depiction of a white man's version of a black man's life," his niece Carol Shirley Kimble told NPR's 1A Movie Club. "My uncle was an incredibly proud man and an incredibly accomplished man, as are the majority of people in my family. To depict him as less than, and to depict him and take away from him and make the story about a hero of a white man for this incredibly accomplished black man is insulting, at best."

The debate was renewed on Twitter late Sunday, with some criticizing Farrelly for failing to recognize Victor H. Green. "Notice how they did not even acknowledge the creator of the actual Green Book, Victor Hugo Green in the acceptance speech for Best Picture," Entertainment Weekly's Rebecca Theodore-Vachon tweeted.

First published on February 25, 2019 / 2:31 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Justin Carissimo

Justin is a breaking news editor at CBS News. Reach him at [email protected]

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