The Green Book Film and Discussion

Zamir Wallace

Hist 128

Professor Miller


“The Greenbook”

“The Green Book” is a film made in 2018 depicting the life of an African-American pianist who travels the country during 1962. The film is a biography of Dr. Don Shirley. He is an expert pianist who is so skilled that he is the only man in the world capable of playing a certain song. He is set to take a tour in the south and he hosts auditions for a driver. This driver ends up being Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. As we watch the movie we see how Don Shirley’s color rules over (or conceals) his talent. He encounters racial slurs and inequalities shown throughout the movie and most importantly it opens up the eyes of his driver, Tony Lip. Tony Lip is an Italian-American who is a hard and tough guy. He is not outwardly nor overtly a racist, but he too isn’t fond of black people like much of white America in the mid-20th century. During the trip he befriends Dr. Don Shirley and sticks up for his friend after seeing the poor treatment. I believe that many people are blind to the struggles of black people because it does not directly affect them. Topics of race, sexuality, religion, gender, etc. get thrown out of the window for the people it doesn’t affect. Instead of waiting until certain things affect us people must educate themselves about these topics to make change. The easiest way for this change to come about is to see it. People can’t defend what they can not see. 

As a country we must first acknowledge the problem at hand, a system of racism that goes unchecked and oftentimes continues because of the miseducation of America and what African-Americans go through . The movie is set way back in the 60’s, but a lot of the misguided racism is still around today. “The Green Book” is more than just a movie title, it was a pamphlet that helped African Americans while crossing the country. It’s pointed out the safe hotels, gas stations, restaurants, etc.  Michael Hall, a post colonial author, explains this perfectly by saying “The Green Book provided African-American travelers a tool with which to subvert and avoid racial discrimination in twentieth-century American leisure travel, Jim Crow prejudice being very much a postcolonial and postbellum legacy of modern enslavement in the Americas.” Victor H. Green published it annually from 1936 to 1966 when discrimination against African Americans was widespread. During this period, African Americans faced racial prejudice, physical violence, and prices that were extreme for anyone while traveling around the United States. 

A scene I would like to point out here is one where Tony Lip and Dr. Don Shirley arrived at a venue and Don was not allowed to dine there, even though he was the main event. The establishment owners rudely asked that Don eat somewhere else. Tony rushed to Dr. Shirley’s aid and questioned the men and they replied that it was the policy to not allow Dr. Shirley in. Dr. Shirley just said that he didn’t understand. They go back and forth until the owner pulls Tony to the side. The man tries to pay off Tony to “talk some sense” into Dr. Shirley, but it does not work and ends up with Tony about to beat up the man before Dr. Shirley intervenes and tells him to stop.

This scene is important because this is where Tony encounters racism and sees it through a black man’s eyes. This revelation caused him to intervene and speak his mind because he had the privilege to do so. He says to the establishment’s leadership that they have the best pianist in the world, the man who is going to entertain all of their guests. They respond by saying that he is still not allowed to enjoy the luxuries of the restaurant because Don is black. He goes on to say how it’s unfair and they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to belittle the man that everyone came to see. How powerful that is to have someone see the pain that a black man goes through and defend him where he is unable. Dr. Don Shirley had the capability to say something, to speak his mind, but it would have been at a great cost. The social norms wouldn’t allow it – which required the black man to give deference to white men. It would cause a disruption in order and Dr. Don Shirley would have had to pay for it. 

This ties into de facto segregation, or “systematic racism,” which was implemented many years before during slavery and has continued to today. There were laws during the Jim Crow that mandated separate but equal public accommodations that continued to segregate black people from white people, just in a “legal” manner. The green book addressed the invisible, but outright rules and regulations placed upon black people. They were discriminated against because of their color and as a result, they couldn’t go to certain places. The green book fought back against these rules and regulations in an attempt to help African-Americans actually feel free and be able to enjoy their country without having to worry all the time about their security. 

This was also during the time of the early Civil Rights Movement. It was a time where change was beginning to come and Don and Frank weren’t at the forefront, but they helped to encourage other musicians and celebrities to stick up for themselves. During this time African-Americans were banding together to make change and help their struggle be acknowledged nationally. The textbook, Freedom on My Mind, says “[freedom inspired events] turned the black civil rights struggle in a new direction and established some of its fundamentals. One was the importance of national attention. Once publicized, local issues became part of a national movement for a democracy that could [fix an unstable country].” This local issue and rebellion pushed for change. Businessmen don’t like to lose money and will almost always prioritize business over an image. That being said some still believed that allowing black people through the front, that by shaking their hand, and doing these seemingly normal things was still too much to make them change their ways. It was slow progress to get owners to change policy and become more accepting, and Don was among the first.

The relationship between Don and Frank created a domino effect and influenced  their family around them. Frank saw that race and skin color doesn’t determine a person’s worth or value. He found that we all share the same goals of happiness, we all can be talented, and we all deserve to be treated with dignity. Racism is still going on today. It is sometimes blatant, but there are subliminal things that I see and here that cause me to question society. The steps toward true peace are slow. The domino effect shown in the movie is something I try and do today. To educate the ignorant and support those who are trying to make a difference. It’s all we can do in order to fight for a better and just world, that is devoid of antiblackness


Works Cited

“Green Book’s Oscar Shows Hollywood Still Doesn’t Get Race | Joseph Harker.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2019,

“The Negro Motorist Green Book.” The Negro Motorist Green Book | Smithsonian Digital Volunteers,

Ra-Shon Hall, Michael. “The Negro Traveller’s Guide to a Jim Crow South: Negotiating Racialized Landscapes during a Dark Period in United States Cultural History, 1936–1967.” Sci-Hub, 2014, The negro traveller’s guide to a Jim Crow South: negotiating racialized landscapes during a dark period in United States cultural history, 1936–1967.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: a History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2017.



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