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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Green Book ****

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini Director: Peter Farrelly Country: USA In all Queer Cinema’s push for the visibility of LGBT+ People, the least represented on screen are definitely the Bs. Apart from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander, even I struggle to think of many iconic bisexual characters. But now at least, we can add Green Book’s Dr. Don Shirley to that list. When New York nightclub bouncer Tony Lip (Mortensen) finds himself out of work, he is scouted for a new security role, looking after Dr Shirley (Ali), who turns out to be an acclaimed musician and not a medic, much to Tony’s surprise. The role is to look after him on the road as he tours the South, but with segregation still firmly in effect in 1960s America, they must follow the rules of the ‘Green Book’, a guide that tells them where a person of colour can safely stay. This is a film that strongly exposes the sheer ridiculousness of segregation. Shirley is a refined, cultured and acclaimed musician, but despite being invited into the homes of wealthy white socialites to impress their guests with his talent, he is still forced to eat separately and use the “coloured toilet” outside. When Tony’s car is pulled over by police to find a white man driving a black man, they simply cannot fathom this dynamic between them. And when they later pull over on a country highway beside a plantation where black workers are essentially slaving in the fields, they are overawed by the sight of Shirley in his suit, ordering his white driver around. Mahershala Ali is resplendent as the musician; dignified, refined, but with a tinge of self-destructiveness. He is a fish out of water who is trying his hardest to accept the rules and conventions of the South but finds it impossible to accept being oppressed. And when he is caught having sex with a man in a YMCA club, we see his only true moment of shame, when he knows he has committed a criminal offence. He knows that as a black person he deserves his rights, but he doesn’t know that for certain with his sexuality. Liberation has not yet gone that far for him. Viggo Mortensen is magnetic as Tony Lip, who begins the movie as a casual racist, who won’t use a glass that has been used by a black person to drink. Really, the film is his story, in which we see him overcoming his prejudices and exposing segregation for what it is. It’s watching this through the eyes of someone who is essentially a thug (we see early on how he can use intimidation and/or violence to his advantage) that makes this journey of discovery so compelling; Tony could easily have stayed just as racist for the rest of his life, but he comes to the truth of his own accord. Though touching on a lot of deeply upsetting themes, the film manages to stay light and funny for the most part. Hilarious sequences between this odd couple in the car drive the narrative from destination to destination, during which Tony tries to understand how a black man doesn’t behave like how he thinks a black man should. But eventually, Shirley confronts this the film’s most poignant message of all: “So if I’m not black enough and I’m not white enough, then tell me, what am I?” Arriving in the wake of Hidden Figures, another light comedy to put segregated America under the microscope, this is a deftly scripted comedy with a message. Anchored by two outstanding performances, this true story of an unlikely friendship will warm even the most jaded of hearts with its comic look on a dark chapter of American history. OUT NOW IN CINEMAS.

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