While Olivia Colman winning Best Actress for The Favourite might have surprised some, Green Book’s triumph in the category of Best Film was the most controversial decision at the 91st Academy Awards.
Did Green Book just win best film!? Say what!? (The reaction of most who watched the 91st Academy Awards which, in other less startling news, saw Olivia Colman shock a few Glenn Close fans to win Best Actress).
Now likely to be the reference point to including Roma or The Favourite in our updated list of Top 10 Films To Be Snubbed For Best Picture At The Oscars and certainly to be known as one of the top 10 times the Oscars got it completely wrong, Green Book, about a touring African-American jazz musician and composer Don Shirley being driven around the 1960s Deep South by Tony Vallelonga, a racist Italian-American nightclub bouncer, is perhaps indicative of Hollywood’s inability to extricate itself from the #OscarsSoWhite criticism. When Danny DeVito said “we’re a bunch of racists” at the Sundance Film Festival, he wasn’t far wrong.
Green Book, which has faced a number of controversies not least for perpetuating the “great white hope” trope found in many Hollywood attempts to tackle bigotry and intolerance, was victorious over Black Panther, Roma, A Star Is Born and The Favourite and quickly faced a backlash which began in the Dolby Theater where Spike Lee allegedly almost stormed out.
“I thought I was courtside at [Madison Square Garden] and the ref made a bad call,” Lee told reporters afterwards, adding that Green Book was not “his cup of tea”. “Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose,” he said in reference to Driving Miss Daisy which Green Book has been compared to.
The film has also been criticised for the so-called “magical negro” figure, a character whose sole function is to provide the catalyst towards a positive change in a white character. Vox critic Todd VanDerWerff said Green Book “lets white folks off the hook for whatever responsibility we bear for the crushing weight of systemic racism”.
Justin Chang from the Los Angeles Times was straightforward in his reaction, declaring the film the “worst best picture Oscar winner since Crash.” The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey was similarly unimpressed, saying the Peter Farrelly’s film “is about as traditional a choice as you can get” and describing it as “a case of the same old, same old”.
Favoured for Best Film thanks to its triumph in the category at the Toronto Film Festival (a good indicator of the Academy Awards’ potential winners), Green Book lost some of its shine thanks to Mortensen’s use of ‘the N-word’ in a post-screening Q&A session (prompting an apology that some felt was insincere) and the backlash from Don Shirley’s family who dismissed the film as a “symphony of lies” that sentimentalised and exaggerated Mortensen’s character Vallelonga’s relationship with him.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian’s film critic, also criticised the Academy Awards for giving Green Book Best Original Screenplay too. “The news of that win lands like a dead weight on Oscar night, increasing the inevitable disappointment and tristesse that settles on any awards ceremony in its closing minutes, as the unacknowledged frustration of the losers’ 80% silent majority seeps into the atmosphere,” he wrote.
“A friend of mine said that by the time this awards season was over, this film should have the word “REALLY?” added to its title. Green Book REALLY? becomes this year’s technical winner of the “best picture” accolade and surely now is added to the list that includes Crash, Chicago and Argo in the What Were They Thinking? categories.
While Bradshaw admitted the film features some good performances it is essentially “shallow stuff” which, in a “sterner universe would be straight-to-video” in part because its “well-intentioned white/black balance is glib”. Fellow Guardian writer Catherine Shoard agreed, saying the decision to award it Best Picture undermined “the conspicuous diversity of this year’s Oscars“. She scathingly added that the movie’s take on race relations was more “suited to its 60s setting than 2019” and presented a sort of “self sabotage” and an “extraordinary final-reel slap in the face from this hitherto impeccable ceremony”.
Check out some more great films that undeservedly missed out on best picture glory.
If you’re still eager for more top 10 lists inspired by the Academy Awards check out 16 Stunningly Photographed American Films That Were Completely Snubbed By The Academy Awards and the Top 10 Best Supporting Actors Who Were Completely Snubbed By The Academy Awards