The 2018 Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book is today remembered more for the controversy regarding its depiction of race relations than its actual story. Viggo Mortensen came in for a huge chunk of the criticism since many believed his role in the film was a classic example of the “white savior” trope in movies. In a recent interview, Mortensen weighed in on the controversy and the unfairness of what the movie has come to mean to a certain section of the audience when it comes to stories involving race.
“[The film is] a story that was based on a very real friendship, and real events, with very few liberties taken at all, but there was this small minority saying it’s not truthful to the period, those people weren’t friends, those things didn’t happen, etc. The dumbass in that story was the white guy. There was a steep learning curve for the character I played. But they both learned from each other. And the fact is, it was based on real events. So the people that really tried to do damage to the movie’s reputation during its run, as you say, and people still to this day are like, “Oh, is this the Green Book of this year?” As if it’s a stain to have been part of that movie, which is ridiculous. That very small minority was either unknowingly or knowingly misinformed and misinforming about the foundation of that story, and the friendship that it’s based on.”
Green Book was inspired by the true story of a tour of the Deep South by African American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and Italian American bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga who acted as Shirley’s driver and bodyguard. The movie was criticized for focussing on Frank’s redemption as a bigot at the hands of Shirley, as well as accusations from surviving members of Shirley’s family that the film misrepresented the relationship between Shirley and Tony as being far more intimate than it actually was. For Viggo Mortensen, such detractors do not take away from what he considers a well-made film whose themes are still relevant to the state of the world today.
“That was unfortunate, and very irritating, because we wanted to talk about the movie and the subject of racism historically and how things hadn’t still hadn’t changed enough by a longshot, as we’ve seen in the last couple of years-certainly, that’s evident. It was unfortunate that it happened, but the public, of all stripes, in all countries, reacted extremely favorably to the movie. I think–and I said so at the time–I think it’s a really good movie and it’s going to stand the test of time. I think it’s up there in the finest tradition of the best work from people like Preston Sturges and others. It’s a really well-made movie, period, and a valuable glimpse of a specific time in US history, with repercussions to this day and with lessons for this day.”
This news first appeared at The Film Stage in a discussion about Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling.