Scene One, Hot Take One: Coming up short — how ‘Green Book’ ruined a fun Oscars

Green Book, which won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Picture, tells the story of Jamaican–American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). Courtesy: AMFM STUDIOS LLC on Vimeo

After the Kevin Hart controversy and the announcement that the 91st Academy Awards would not have a host, it appeared this year’s show was going to be an absolute trainwreck.

Surprisingly, the lack of a host resulted in a fun ceremony. And yet, this positive change and other successful elements could not make up for the embarrassing failure of “Green Book” taking home Best Picture.

But before addressing the white savior elephant in the room, let’s look at the successes of this year’s Oscars.  

First, while it looked like a hostless night would lead to disaster, it actually turned into the most watchable and fast-paced ceremony in recent memory. The lack of a single host made the show feel much shorter and less stuffed then it has in the past.

Instead of sitting through a monologue consisting of typical, self-congratulating banter amongst the Hollywood elite, we saw a potpourri of celebrities presenting the awards in a timely manner.

Some of the most notable and surprising winners were Olivia Colman winning Best Leading Actress for “The Favourite” and Spike Lee getting his long-deserved first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “BlacKKKlansman.”

Another highlight was when Samuel L. Jackson seemingly went off-script to inform Lee that Lee’s favorite NBA team, the New York Knicks, had broken an 18-game home losing streak. Lee responded in true Knicks fan fashion by shouting, “We’re tanking!”

Unfortunately, the speed of the hostless Oscars, wins for Coleman and Lee and a Knicks shoutout were not enough for the show to overcome the biggest disappointment of the night: “Green Book” taking home Best Picture.

The failure of “Green Book” winning Best Picture doesn’t necessarily stem from the film’s quality. In fact, there were elements of the film I enjoyed, notably the performances of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

The real problem with “Green Book” winning comes from a long line of deeply problematic white savior films.

In short, white savior films like “Green Book” problematically depict a white person overcoming their own racism and that of their time by befriending and helping a black man or woman. In “Green Book,” the white savior is a driver who learns how to not be racist after driving a black musician around the Jim Crow South.

White savior films are like catnip to the Academy, so it’s not surprising that “Green Book” joined films like “Driving Miss Daisy” as white savior Best Picture winners. Having the most prestigious award of the ceremony go to “Green Book” only leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth, especially after realizing that great 2018 films like “Roma” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” tackled race in nuanced ways and were much more deserving of the Best Picture award.

Ultimately, the 2019 Academy Awards provided an entertaining buildup to the evening’s true failure: the “Green Book” Best Picture win. Because of this, I propose that we, the people, rewrite history and remember the success of the hostless night, the unexpected Colman win and the video of Lee saying “Green Book” was not his cup of tea as the 2019 Oscar Best Picture winner.

Let’s just all agree to forget about “Green Book.”

Ben Hafetz PZ ’21 is a media studies and politics double major. He likes to not only see movies, but also tell his friends why they should or should not like certain ones.

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