ARA: Does Green Book feature the Magic Negro?

African-American filmmaker Spike Lee popularized the term, deriding the archetype of the ‘super-duper magical negro’ in 2001 while discussing films with students.

Green BookMr. AmeriNZ himself, Arthur asked:

What do you make of the criticism of “Green Book” that it’s basically “Driving Miss Daisy”, with roles reversed, but still the Magic Negro “saving” the white person making them better. Spike Lee was apparently very angry about their award.

I suppose I should discuss what the Magical Negro/Magic Negro/Mystical Negro is. Wikipedia notes: “The Magical Negro is a supporting stock character in fiction who, by use of special insight or powers often of a supernatural or quasi-mystical nature, helps the white protagonist get out of trouble.

“African-American filmmaker Spike Lee popularized the term, deriding the archetype of the ‘super-duper magical negro’ in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University.” Spike said, specifically to some British reporters, that Green Book was “not my cup of tea.”

TVtropes adds: “In fact, the Magical Negro really seems to have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he’s served that purpose.” Key and Peale famously had a comedic Magical Negro Fight.

“Lee’s grumbling about ‘magical Negroes’ came amid a spate of films that included The Family Man, The Green Mile, and The Legend of Bagger Vance, all of which featured black characters with mystical powers that were employed entirely for the benefit of white leads.”

I don’t know the former, but I saw The Green Mile and I know enough about the latter to put them both in the category.

I don’t have room to address all the possible films considered in the category, but I think the consideration of Morgan Freeman in either The Shawshank Redemption or Bruce Almighty (where he plays God) as a magic Negro is absurd.

As for Green Book, I think Don Shirley was hardly the docile, helpful black person to make white person Louis Lip’s life better. It seems that they learned from each other.

To that end, some critics complain that Green Book is a “‘but also movie, a both sides movie’ that draws a false equivalency between Vallelonga’s vulgar bigotry and Shirley’s emotional aloofness, forcing both characters — not just the racist white dude — to learn something about themselves and each other.” That’s a different complaint, possibly a function of Vallelonga’s son co-writing the screenplay.

Oddly, Green Book sort of reminded me of – and I haven’t seen it since it was first released – Rain Man (1988). Charlie (Tom Cruise) has one sense of his brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), but has seen the light by the end of a six-day trip.

Read how Mahershali Ali changed a pivotal scene, saving the movie from falling into the “white-savior” trope, sort of the variation on the magical Negro.

My Oscar picks don’t include Roma

In the Best Documentary Feature category, I expectedwanted Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (re: Fred Rogers) and Three Identical Strangers

Roma_theatrical_posterWhen Roma came to the Spectrum Theatre, I said to my wife, “We need to see that film.” The weekend we were finally available, it had just left.

Yes, I suppose I could see it online, but I know I won’t. Currently, I have movies I’ve recorded weeks ago. I can’t find the block of time to watch them as they were meant to be viewed, i.e., in one sitting, without interruptions.

Roma was actually the second film in that category this year. In the summer, we both wanted to see First Reformed; alas, it didn’t happen. Links to my reviews, but only the first appearance on the list.

I saw it – *.

Best Picture

*Black Panther – my second pick
*BlacKkKlansman – my first pick, my wife’s second pick
*#Bohemian Rhapsody – at this moment, still playing here – finally saw
*The Favourite – NOT my favorite
*Green Book – my wife’s first pick; some critics want to make the contest a redo of When the Oscars Chose Driving Miss Daisy Over Do the Right Thing; meh
*A Star Is Born – the problem with this movie is that it was done thrice before
*Vice – a very divisive film

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
*Olivia Colman, The Favourite
*Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
*Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? – my pick

Best Actor – I would have bet money on Ethan Hawke in First Reformed getting nominated

*Christian Bale, Vice – he was REALLY good Dick Cheney
*Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
*#Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody – I suspect if I see this, this will win out
*Viggo Mortensen, Green Book – never felt like a starring role

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma – will win
*Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
*Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman – my clear favorite
*Adam McKay, Vice
*#Pawl Pawlikowski, Cold War – hasn’t played yet in Albany

Best Supporting Actress

*Amy Adams, Vice – she was very good
Marina de Tavira, Roma
*Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk – a tossup between her and Adams
*Emma Stone, The Favourite
*Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor

*Mahershala Ali, Green Book – practically a leading role
*Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
*Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born – too small a part
*Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? – my favorite role
*Sam Rockwell, Vice

Best Original Screenplay – I was hoping for a nod for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade or Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You

*The Favourite
First Reformed
*Green Book – my choice

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – a Netflix film that I’ve never seen advertised in a theater around here
*BlacKkKlansman – since it won’t win Best Picture, this would be a nice consolation prize
*Can You Ever Forgive Me?
*If Beale Street Could Talk
*A Star Is Born

Best Original Song

*“All the Stars,” Black Panther
*“I’ll Fight,” RBG
*“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns – this DID make me a tad weepy, maybe perhaps
*“Shallow,” A Star Is Born – give Gaga SOMETHING
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ballad of buster scruggs
A Netflix film that never played theatrically in Albany, NY

Best Original Score

*Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson evokes Africa, my #1 pick
*BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard’s eclectic-sounds, my #1A pick
*If Beale Street Could Talk
*Isle of Dogs
*Mary Poppins Returns

Best Film Editing

*BlacKkKlansman -yes
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
*The Favourite
*Green Book

Best Foreign Language Film

Capernaum (Lebanon)
*#Cold War (Poland) – opened this weekend in Albany
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
*#Shoplifters (Japan) – saw it this past weekend; worthwhile

Best Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
*Isle of Dogs – very quirky; liked it a lot, and it’s not a sequel
*Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – at this writing, still playing

Best Documentary Feature – I wanted Won’t You Be My Neighbor? re: Fred Rogers and Three Identical Strangers

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
*RBG – this was VERY good

Best Cinematography

*#Cold War
*The Favourite – actually, the movie was technically good
Never Look Away
*A Star Is Born

Best Production Design

*Black Panther – this WOWED me
*The Favourite
First Man
*Mary Poppins Returns

Best Visual Effects – saw none

Avengers: Infinity War/Christopher Robin/First Man/Ready Player One/Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
*Black Panther -yes
*The Favourite – would be worthy
*Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

Best Makeup and Hair Styling

Mary Queen of Scots
*Vice – this was very good makeup

Best Sound Mixing

*Black Panther – I never get the sound categories straight
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
*A Star Is Born

Best Sound Editing

*Black Panther
*#Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place

Movie review: Green Book (2018)

“Don Shirley’s last living brother was ‘furious’ when he heard of the depiction of his brother… calling it ‘a symphony of lies.'”

Green Book movieMy wife and I went to see the movie Green Book at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany last week and we really enjoyed it. At some level, Ken Levine is right when he says it’s, at least in part, a “buddy road picture. Good performances, and scenes that hit all the desired emotions.”

If you just watch the film without context, you can appreciate the acting of Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American classical pianist, Viggo Mortensen as Louie “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer and Dr. Shirley’s driver in the Deep South in 1962; and Linda Cardellini as Dolores, Louie’s wife staying home waiting for her husband’s letters.

I’ll even defend one strain of criticism, that it seemed that the Italian guy knew more about fried chicken than the black guy. In a speech, “Don Shirley” describes the false narrative of the cliches of what being black in America is “supposed” to be, and I know from personal experience how dead-on he is.

More problematic, though, is information in this article, “How ‘Green Book’ And The Hollywood Machine Swallowed Donald Shirley Whole.” Most movies about real people and events from the escape scene at the end of Argo to the doubt of RBG in the upcoming film On Account of Sex.

But Edwin Shirley III was shocked by the “portrayal of his uncle as a Black man who is estranged from his family, estranged from the Black community and seemingly embarrassed by Blackness.

“Dr. Shirley’s last living brother, Dr. Maurice Shirley, 82, was ‘furious’ when he heard of the depiction of his brother… calling it ‘a symphony of lies.’ As one example, Maurice mentions the moment in the film where Ali’s character says he has a brother but didn’t know his whereabouts, as they hadn’t been in contact for some time. ‘At that point…, he had three living brothers with whom he was always in contact.”

A related article asks: When will Hollywood stop centering white people in Black stories? Certainly, it’s somewhat true here, in no small part because the story was written by Nick Vallelonga, Louie’s son. I didn’t find it a fatal flaw, because I thought Louie learned a lot from Don as well, but others disagree.

The one thing that actually DID bug me was that the title item, The Negro Motorist Green Book, was not described well enough for me. I mean I knew about it; heck, I WROTE about it in 2012. I’m recommending the movie Green Book, irrespective of the legitimacy of the controversy because it was entertaining. And maybe Americans now know more about Dr. Don Shirley and about a lifesaving publication in its history.

October rambling #2: absquatulate

I have a stuffed lion with a wild mane which I named Lenny.

The office move is mostly complete, but the inner offices are chaos. The recovery goes well, so now I’m trying to catch up on everything that got put on hold.

How Propaganda Works.

The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia.

Re: Hassan v. City of New York lawsuit against the NYPD over its surveillance program targeting Muslims. Plus the dreadful Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Greenland Is Melting Away.

MIT Technology Review: Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

There are No Innocent Black People.

Buck Rogers and the Copyright Trolls. Continue reading “October rambling #2: absquatulate”

E is for Esso

Esso stations, unusual in franchising to African Americans, were a popular place to pick up a Green Book.

When I was growing up, as often as not, we got our gas from the Esso station. Esso (“S-O”) “is derived from the initials of the pre-1911 Standard Oil.” I didn’t remember this, but I read that it became the focus of so “much litigation and regulatory restriction in the United States [that in] 1972, it was largely replaced in the U.S. by the Exxon brand… while Esso remained widely used elsewhere.” Ironic, since the Exxon brand name has been forever tainted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, not to mention purposefully manufacturing uncertainty on climate change.

Whereas Esso had quite a positive image, at least with many people of my father’s generation. For there was a time in the United States Continue reading “E is for Esso”