Green Book Parent Guide
A powerful film with messages about equality, dignity, friendship, and shared humanity.
Parent Movie Review
Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson) can’t understand how his boss, the gifted African American concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) maintains his composure and performs exquisite music in front of audiences who will not allow him to shop in their stores or stay in their hotels because of his race. “Genius is not enough,” explains the cellist from his trio. “It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”
Green Book is a tribute to that courage. In 1962, it is an act of real bravery for an African American artist to sign up for a concert tour in the Deep South. In fact, the film takes its name from the real “Green Book”, a travel guide for African Americans. Reflecting the reality of the discriminatory Jim Crow laws prevalent in the Southern States, this guide listed hotels, motels, restaurants and other businesses that would serve African American customers. It also warned its readers about “sundown towns” – which required non-whites to be outside municipal boundaries before sunset.
Given the dangers of his decision, Dr. Shirley wisely advertises for a driver who can also provide physical protection. He winds up with Tony Vallelonga, a recently laid off bouncer from the Copacabana night club. Tony is quick with his fists, quicker with his mouth, and ethically challenged. He also harbors prejudice against people of color. Clearly, this road trip is going to be a bumpy ride.
This oddball buddy movie works surprisingly well thanks to standout performances by both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson. Ali invests his character with patrician dignity that comes just short of arrogance while also projecting his vulnerability, isolation, loneliness and bottled up rage. And Mortenson pushes his soft-hearted-tough-guy character beyond stereotypes as he learns to appreciate his employer’s talent and inner strength. Both men recognize each other’s humanity and develop a genuine friendship on their risky road trip.
While the main characters learn valuable lessons over the course of the story, parents will not be happy with some of the extra-curricular lessons in this film. The PG-13 rating is appropriate: this movie is totally unsuitable for children. Parents considering Green Book for their teens will want to consider the extensive profanity in this production: there are over five dozen curses, including two sexual expletives and multiple racial and ethnic slurs. There are also several fight scenes and firearms are occasionally seen, although no one is shot. Substance use is also troubling: Tony smokes almost continuously throughout the film and Dr. Shirley attempts to mask his emotional stress with nightly drinking, becoming intoxicated on more than one occasion. Sexual content is limited to one scene where Dr. Shirley and a white man are arrested at a YMCA for implied homosexual activities. The two are shown naked, sitting on the change room floor. (No genitals are visible.) Frankly, this scene does not feel credible: it is hard to believe that a man as intelligent as Dr. Shirley would take the enormous risk of conducting an illegal homosexual relationship. With a white man. In a public place. In the deep South. It is simply too hazardous, not only to his personal safety but also to his career. (Tony’s matter of fact reaction is also pretty hard to believe, given the times.)
Viewers who are prepared to sit through the negative content will find many positive messages in Green Book. “Thank you for your hospitality,” says Dr. Shirley without a shred of irony in his voice, as he plays a concert in a town where he can’t stay in a decent hotel. His composure does not falter as powerful, passionate music flows through his fingers and his beloved Steinway grand piano. And he teaches Tony about dignity, self-respect, and self-control. After Tony punches a police officer and gets them both thrown in jail, Dr. Shirley berates him, “So that little temper tantrum…was it worth it? You only win when you maintain your dignity. Dignity always prevails.” Tony, in turn, teaches Dr. Shirley that dignity is cold comfort unless it is accompanied by friendship, kindness and loyalty. Unlike the world of the Jim Crow South, this buddy picture has something for everyone.Directed by Peter Farrelly. Starring Linda Cardellini, Viggo Mortensen, and Mahershala Ali. Running time: 130 minutes. Theatrical release November 21, 2018. Updated April 18, 2020
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Green Book rated PG-13? Green Book is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material
Violence: A group of men have a fight at a night club: punches are thrown and a bouncer tosses one man out on to the sidewalk. He punches him repeatedly and is shown with blood on his shirt. A man talks about punching his boss at a previous job. A bartender pulls a gun on a group of men who try to beat up an African American man. A main character is shown applying make up to cover the bruises and abrasions he has received in racially motivated attacks. A main character punches a police officer. A main character grabs a man and pushes him into a wall: dents are shown in the wall. A main character fires a gun into the air to frighten off potential assailants.
Sexual Content: A main character is arrested at a YMCA for an alleged homosexual assignation. Both men involved are shown naked and handcuffed in the change room. (No genitals or buttocks are visible.) Police officers accept bribes to let the men go.
Profanity: Green Book is replete with profanity with at least 68 uses of swear words or coarse language in the film. These include at least 17 scatological terms, 11 terms of deity, two sexual expletives in a non-sexual context (and one sexual hand gesture), and 25 other moderate profanities. There are over a dozen racial or ethnic slurs, including at least eight derogatory terms for African Americans and other terms used to describe Jews, Germans, and Italians.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Cigarettes are smoked throughout the film, with a main character smoking almost non-stop. Alcohol is consumed at social occasions. After he gets laid off, a minor character says he is going to drink for two months. A main character drinks alcohol in bars and at home. A main character drinks daily to mask his emotional anguish and gets drunk on more than one occasion.
Page last updated April 18, 2020
Green Book Parents' Guide
African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s used the Green Book so they could travel without racial violence or public humiliation. Cities and states used laws that were designed to keep white and black residents separate. The Civil Rights movement fought to have discriminatory laws overturned. Does that mean that the problem is solved? Are African Americans treated equally in the US today? Do African Americans travel as safely as white Americans in 2018? Do they remain segregated in terms of where they live? Do you think residential segregation remains a problem? What do you think can be done to reduce segregation and increase understanding between people of different races?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Mildred Taylor combines two novellas in The Friendship and The Gold Cadillac. The first story tells the tale of a childhood friendship between a black man and white man in the deep south and its tragic results. The second tells the story of the dangers faced by an African American family traveling through the south in an expensive car. Ages 9 +.
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles brings the heartache of segregation down to a level that can be understood by very young readers in this story of two boys who want to swim together. But…African Americans aren’t allowed to use the local swimming pool. Ages 4-8.
Jacqueline Woodson tells the tale of two girls who don’t let a fence separate them, despite their different racial identities in The Other Side. (For ages 5-8) Another pair of girls who won’t let anything divide them, not even segregated schools, are featured in The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. Ages 10+.
The most recent home video release of Green Book movie is March 12, 2019. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
In Selma, Martin Luther King organizes protests against laws that discriminate against African Americans. David Oyelowo gives a powerful performance in the starring role.
The Hate U Give, which releases on DVD in January 2019, also features an encounter with a white police officer. In this case, the results are deadly and a young girl must face difficult choices about speaking or remaining silent.
Robert Kennedy’s off screen part in Green Book is entertaining. The younger Kennedy brother also plays an important off-screen part in Loving. This quiet, gentle film tells the story about Richard and Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage was considered illegal in the State of Virginia. Their decade long legal battle went all the way to the Supreme Court.