Golden Globe (2019) winner for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), with major nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Viggo Mortensen), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing in the upcoming 91st Academy Awards, the buddy road trip movie “Green Book” takes its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual travel guide that was published annually from 1936 to 1966, which listed businesses and other establishments that served Black customers and enabled Black travelers to plan their road trips to help them avoid harassment, arrest, or violence.
The Green Book, as it was called, was created and published by an African-American New York City mailman, Victor Hugo Green, and became an indispensable survival tool for African Americans travelling by car. Originally it covered only the New York area, but it gradually expanded to cover most of North America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. In the U.S, it became invaluable in the South, where Jim Crow segregation laws varied by county and state, and unofficial rules in “Sundown towns” forbade Black Americans from being out after dark. After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation between black and white became illegal, The Green Book was no longer needed, and it slowly faded into history.
It is a movie 50 years in the making, now comes a story about an unlikely friendship which the book was a major part of. Viggo Mortensen takes on the role of Tony Vallelonga and Ali dons the ironed out character of Dr. Shirley. Based on stories told by Tony to his oldest son Nick, grew up hearing about his father’s journey with Don Shirley. Tony had grown up in The Bronx and had landed a job at the Copacabana night club, where he worked for 12 years, rubbing elbows with mob honchos and celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Bobby Darin. Although he stopped going to school after the seventh grade, he was garrulous and charismatic, and earned his nickname for his reputation of being able to persuade anybody of just about anything.
“Doc’s not like any of the African-American people that Tony has grown up with in New York City,” Mortensen says. “He’s never seen a man like this. At first Tony feels this guy is very prickly, finicky, even snobbish. Tony may not be as bright as Doc Shirley in some ways, but he has good instincts, street smarts, and he can tell that Doc Shirley seems to think that Tony’s beneath him in a lot of ways. And while Doc thinks Tony’s useful because he’s a good bodyguard and driver, he also thinks he’s annoying. You can see both guys’ points of view right from the start of the trip.”
“Green Book” opens February 6 in cinemas from Pioneer Films.