In a sense, it's no surprise that Green Book—a feel-good dramedy about a mob–adjacent family man (Viggo Mortensen) who takes a job as chauffeur and bodyguard for a black concert pianist (Mahershala Ali) on tour in the 1960s South—won this year's best-picture Oscar. After all, Driving Miss Daisy charmed audiences and the Academy of Motion Pictures with a similar plot involving a driver and a passenger from different backgrounds getting to know and like each other.
But that movie, released in 1989, came at a moment when Americans were apparently eager to celebrate long decades of racial progress. In 2019, the kumbaya ethos seems decidedly less prevalent. For many in U.S. politics today, clashes between worldviews—along the lines of race, class, gender, or partisan affiliation—have taken on new existential importance.
Thus, some critics reacted to Green Book with neither pleasure at a tale of improbable friendship nor eye rolling at its predictable story formula but with charges that, as Vanity Fair put it, "a film written and directed solely by white people has no business even referencing something as central to the African-American experience as The Negro Motorist Green Book, the guide to restaurants and hotels that served blacks during the Jim Crow era." The movie's irony is that it has made unmistakably clear how divided we still are.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Green Book".