The Green Book and Mudbound: Two Movies of Black and White


The Green Book and Mudbound explore race relations in the South.

Holiday Season is Viewing Season too, and Barb and I have used the extra free time to watch a pair of movies. We saw The Green Book at the theater as part of dinner and a movie night with friends, and Mudbound at home on the evening of Christmas Day after sending the family packing and cleaning the house. The first has been getting great word of mouth and we actively sought it out, the second is a less recognized though highly acclaimed Netflix-produced film from last year that we stumbled across. They are both moving stories of race and hate and love.

The Green Book is the lighter of the two films. It’s a buddy film, it’s a road film, it’s a film of racial divide, as a white bouncer from New York drives and in other ways assists a black pianist on a barnstorming tour through white establishments from Ohio to the Deep South in 1962. A little Driving Miss Daisy, a little It’s a Wonderful Life, a little Goodfellas, and a whole lot more.

Don Shirley, the musician played by Mahershala Ali, has the education, the talent, and the diction of the upper classes, but is just an excluded Negro in the South. His private torments extend beyond race. Viggo Mortenson is Tony Lip, the temporary driver, street smart and tough, but with an expansive heart and a commitment to get Shirley to every show, no matter the circumstances.

Mortenson has done road pictures before, and no matter how desperate the situation here, nothing compares to the absolute bleakness of 2009’s The Road. But in both pictures, we learn of the power of love.

Love is also the last redemption in the much starker, more despairing movie, Mudbound. The setting is once again the racial divide of the South, this time in the World War II 40’s. A black family and a white family tied together by the land they farm, struggle against each other, the culture that makes them enemies, and nature that plagues them with unyielding fields and never-ending rains. Any act of friendship or kindness between black and white is viewed with suspicion, every action has the potential of being the lit fuse that sets off the powder keg. After the horrible, the unspeakable does occur, one character acts to destroy hate, another finds he must re-create himself “not for war. But for love.”

These are not Christmas movies. But isn’t that final message what we need the season to be about?

Best Comment from Friday’s PostTHANKS–A BREATHE OF FRESH AIR–John Markay

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