Green Book’s Win Says More About the Academy Than Society

I’ve made my feelings on Green Book clear. It’s a fine Oscar-bait film that fits what Hollywood always wanted to reward in the recent past. The questions it answers are safe and the performances are great. Tell me how it truly differs from movies that won fifteen or twenty years ago… Actually, tell me how it differs from white savior films of any era.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture

The filmmakers behind Green Book accepting the Best Picture award at the 2019 Oscars.

Society changes at a rapid pace in the social media age, yet the Academy is experiencing some kind of cultural lag. Moonlight made me wonder if change had occurred (plus that fiasco was pretty fun). Then The Shape of Water won, and while I was frustrated it wasn’t a bolder choice (Call Me By Your Name and Get Out, anyone?), I understood it. The world grew a little darker, and we got an escapist fairy tale about evil government agents that was incredibly well-made. Maybe that year would serve as a stepping stone; it contained fantastic films that wholly deserved to be there.

Are these two Best Picture winners the result of ranked choice voting leading to a safe win from everyone’s number two or three? It’s certainly possible. I couldn’t tell you how Green Book makes it near the top of this list of exceptional films, but people in the industry probably could. As movie-watchers and filmmakers, we know there’s more to a film than enjoyment and the technical aspects – films are rhetoric and provide commentary on issues in our society through the stories they tell.

What does Green Book say about our society? What within it reflects the reality of 2018? Collective tone-deafness? Sure, it would be great if we could all just get along, but we aren’t, and for good reason. 30-40% of America is cool with a proto-fascist President declaring a national emergency to bypass the largest responsibility of the US Congress. He continually refers to the press and political opposition as “enemies of the people.” Hate crimes are on the rise. Hollywood may be a conservative’s idea of a left-wing bastion, but the Academy’s output to the world lacks the political drive and anger many in America feel. Green Book is not as pointed as BlacKkKlansmen, Vice, or Black Panther.

A Green Book Oscars win is the cinematic equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand. It shows a true lack of change in the Academy. You’d think society had remained stagnant since at least the 90’s if you judge by Green Book. Will 2020 finally be the year the Oscars get it right? Don’t get your hopes up. 



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Jacob Davis

Jacob is a film critic, and co-host of the podcast Three Guys One Movie.
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