The strain that films like “Green Book,” “Hidden Figures,” and “The Blind Side,” encounter is that they are served as simplified feel good movies for popular audiences about race, wrapped in star talent and production to lift it into awards season.
The conflicts in such race centric movies often suffer from predictability and cliché grooved character types. Ah yes, a 1960’s Italian American from the Bronx with prejudicial views of African-Americans. Oh look, his interactions with a uniquely accomplished musician who is African-American have now softened his prejudicial views. The over-emphasis on this type of progress is often a de facto white washing of history to glorify the role and pure intentions of white characters. It minimizes their faults, painting a warm and fuzzy picture of hope while creating a false notion of what racial progress looks like.
These easily digestible films cause other directors and writers to create films that might be viewed as a jerking, well-deserved over-correction; films like “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma” for instance. “Selma,” greatly minimizes Lyndon Johnson’s central role in pushing for Civil Rights reform, because the director did not want to glorify the actions of a white character in any way that might take away from Dr. King’s pivotal story. “12 Years a Slave” is an unrelentingly depressing film because it is written as a counter-mainstream narrative that doesn’t treat slavery and discrimination as a bygone era, nor illustrate progress and reparation for the sins of slavery and its later iterations.
“Hidden Figures,” has inspiring scenes, but begs a shrugging “meh” in terms of its lasting impact, its cultural importance, and its creative cinematic worth. Ahistorical, half-true feel good films with contrived sequences tend to indulge an empty feeling upon closer examination, which only gets worse as the trope is made more redundant. What can mitigate this feeling is when a movie offers unexpected scraps or novelty.
“Green Book” hits the marks of creative novelty better than most of its similar contemporaries. Musical integration, small twists in development, and solid performances from Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen hold things in place where other films might crumble beneath the under-your-nose righteousness rife in this genre. While not avoiding the pitfalls of its comparable films, “Green Book” suspends a mirage of charm just high enough to make it enjoyable.