Oh, brother. Aside from announcing the wrong Best Picture award at the 2016 ceremony (wrong from the balloting, anyway; La La Land was a much better movie than Moonlight), this is the most recent huge controversy at the Oscars.
I’ve never really liked Spike Lee. Don’t get me wrong, he has made some very good movies, he’s an important director (but not a great one) … but you know how every once in a while someone comes along that you just don’t like, and can’t give a real great reason why? You don’t? Maybe it’s just me. He just rubs me the wrong way. I think he has a real high opinion of himself.
So on Oscar night he gave me a really good reason to dislike him. When this movie was announced as the winner, he got up from his seat, jeered, and walked almost to the back rows of the Dolby Theater, then decided to stay. This would be asshole behavior under any circumstances, but his movie BlacKkKlansman was also nominated. Friends, I once found myself in exactly this position at a Hugo Awards ceremony. I had a story on the ballot, and I thought the story that won was awful. Just awful. Did I get up and stomp out in snit? I did not.
BTW: This is not sour grapes. I did not think that my story was the best. There was another that was better than mine. And there’s no way in the world that I’ll ever tell you what those three stories and two other authors were. So fuck you, Spike.
That said, this is not a good choice for Best Picture. It’s not because of all the racial arguments that have been made, i.e., that it’s a remake of Driving Miss Daisy with the colors reversed, or that it uses the despised, and often misapplied “white savior” trope. No, it’s just not that great a movie. Nothing wrong with it, but it falls far short of greatness. It is the true (more or less) story of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, a white man, hired to chauffer Don Shirley, a black musician, through the Deep South. I kept asking myself questions like “Was he out of his fucking mind?” and “What did he expect this trip to be like?” I didn’t even like his music very much. It tried to blend jazz and classical, and it felt cold and too structured. Personal opinion.
In what I think is a real injustice, Mahershala Ali won the Best Supporting Actor for his performance here. See my review of Can You Ever Forgive Me? to see why I think so.
The Green Book of the title, BTW, was The Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936 to 1966. It was a valuable tool for anyone “driving while black,” which could be basically a crime in some fucked-up jurisdictions in those days. The little pamphlet steered you to restaurants and hotels that either catered exclusively to “colored,” or at least served them. It also steered you clear of towns where the sign at the city limits said “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on Yo’ Black Ass in (fill in the name of some racist shithole.)” I grew up within twenty miles of such a shithole.