A bastion of mostly-white privileged members of the Hollywood movie industry chose “Green Book,” inspired by a true story according to the film’s director, as both this year’s highly-coveted Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay during the recent Academy Awards.
Before I comment on the reactions of “the family,” I have to admit that I personally experienced an unfortunate feeling of déjà vu. Thirty years (1990) after “Driving Miss Daisy” took “Best Picture” while Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” failed to garner any nominations in the top categories, another feel good story took the top prize. The similarities between the 1990 winner and this year’s choice are telling: “Green Book” features a white man, instead of an old white woman, who overcomes his own racist attitudes and beliefs in a not-so-surprising “spiritual transformation,” besting Spike Lee’s film, “BlacKkKlansman,” also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. Naturally, I celebrated the accomplishment of the talented director and writer who finally received his just due, taking home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Klansman,” but the decision by the Academy speaks volumes as to how willing, or more aptly unwilling America still remains, even after 400 years, to look racism and prejudice squarely in the eye, admit our country’s numerous transgressions and say, “enough is enough.”
Thus, it comes as no surprise that many Blacks are up in arms — incensed, irked, irritated and fit to be tied — because this year’s Best Picture failed to provide an honest, more realistic account of the challenges and life-threatening examples of racism and injustice which Donald Shirley, the celebrated Black pianist on whose life the film is based, faced during his travels to the South.
But we really shouldn’t allow our blood pressure to rise. My advice: if you’re one of millions who have since taken to Twitter to express your views, I wouldn’t waste any more time or energy. Have we so quickly and easily forgotten the protest lodged on social media, #OscarsSoWhite, which went viral just a few years ago after the contributions of Blacks were completely ignored during the 87th Academy Awards?
More to the point, when have African Americans ever been cast in an unfiltered, non-prejudicial light when white hands have guided the pen, bending the truth and presenting “folk tales” which bear little resemblance to the facts — presumably in order to perpetuate the preponderance of that centuries-old ideology of “the man” and his “God-given role” as America’s, if not the world’s solution to all of our ills — “the great white hope?”
Actually, I have other things far more important with which to concern myself: voter suppression and how it could very well impact the results of the upcoming and pivotal presidential election in 2020; the current and future health of our planet; and the disproportionate number of Black boys and girls being funneled into the prison industrial complex instead of being better-prepared during their formative years to take full advantage of educational opportunities in pursuit of the “American Dream.”
Some Blacks assert that “Green Book” reaffirms the idea of the white man as the savior of the Black man — even for the Black race — whether we hail from Alabama, Arkansas or South Africa and cite this unfounded and utterly ridiculous idea as the basis of their discontent. Again, I say, “who cares?”
During the 1960s and early ’70s, I was just a little boy riding in the backseat of my father’s Riviera, bouncing from window to window during our yearly trip to see the cousins and kinfolks in the South. Back then, if my parents had their own copy of the “Negro Green Book” which alerted African Americans which hotels and other businesses along the way welcomed Blacks, therefore indicating they were “safe havens,” I cannot say. I never saw the book in my father’s glove compartment nestled conveniently close to his road maps — and until recently — I can’t honestly say that I even remember hearing of its existence.
Nonetheless, I do know that I continue to carry the scars and fall victim to infrequent flashbacks from those summer junkets of sleeping in our car along the side of the road, cold and uncomfortable, because of hotels that refused to serve Blacks. I still recall eating cold pieces of chicken on slices of bread with crusted over wedges of butter (I have never liked cold cuts of any fashion) because of restaurants and diners that barred our entry, unless we were willing to take some unknown concoctions placed in a greasy paper bag and tossed in our faces. (Note to readers: my parents weren’t down for any of that!)
I can still conjure up visions of undeniable expressions of shame and the pain on my mother’s face as she squatted in the woods behind a tree with a Mason jar in hand — the only bathroom available to her because of public facilities that only served whites.
I don’t have to read the history — I lived it. And as I tell my children and my grandsons, it was even far worse when my parents were growing up in Alabama and Virginia.
During those summers long ago, I was just a precocious little Black boy from Detroit riding with my parents and my big sister to visit the family in places like Birmingham, Nashville, Richmond and Pensacola — beautiful cities with verdant fields, long rows of tall tobacco and pristine beaches with white sand. Back then, the only “green book” that really mattered was the one that kept us out of harm’s way — that kept us alive and kept my Daddy out of jail or, even worse, not becoming an inhabitant of the local cemetery, because he had been compelled to pull out his rifle and handgun to defend his wife and children.
Over 50 years have gone by and while we’d like to pretend that so much has changed for the better, I’m not so sure, sometimes. You see, the fear that hovered over me and invaded my soul as part and parcel of those painful childhood experiences — experiences that should have been equally as beautiful as the beaches and fields and wooded landscapes I saw along the way — had such a profound effect on my life and psyche, that they seem more like snapshots of scenes from yesterday instead of nightmares from a distance past that I’d rather forget — but simply can’t.