Paul R. Lehman,Why the movie The Green Book failed to carry a positive message for African Americans.

February 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Posted in African American, African American and chicken, African American celebrities, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Black Englisn, black inferiority, blacks, desegregation, discrimination, Disrespect, employment, Equal Opportunity, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, integregation, justice, minorities, Negro, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, segregation, skin color, social conditioning, social justice system, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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Family, friends, and acquaintances were the order in which African American musicians and other entertainers used for hospitality, food, and lodging in the days before desegregation. During the early 1950’s when my cousin “Little Walter” Jacobs came to town for a show or two, his biggest decision was with whom he would stay. His room at the local hotel for people of color was only for his belongings. Jacobs was not alone in this endeavor, most African American entertainers depended on their relations in the communities they visited for hospitality where they were usually treated as celebrities. Because this form of accommodation was ordinary for African American entertainers, most road managers and agents saw to it that the flyers announcing the coming attractions were in place weeks before the actual shows. That way, the family, friends, and acquaintances would be prepared for the celebrity’s arrival.

The key to a successful tour for African American entertainers in large part fell to the managers and their connections with other managers on the “Chitlin Circuit,” which was a collection of performance venues throughout the Eastern, Southern, and upper Midwest areas of the United States that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African-American entertainers. A Green Book was not usually necessary for these entertainers because of the information network of the managers. For other African Americans traveling around America and especially through the South The Green Book was important. Somehow the movie, The Green Book, did not touch on the experiences of African American entertainers traveling through America.

For some American viewers, the movie The Green Book was very entertaining and likeable simply because it included a well-known musician of color, Don Shirley and a historical perspective. Unfortunately, viewers sometimes do not see the forest for the trees, or they concentrate on the movie rather than the message it presents. When we examine the movie for it message, we discover that the movie was disappointing from three aspects—the Green Book, the musician, and the bouncer.

Although the movie carried the title—The Green Book, little attention was paid to the actual book, it author and content. Yes, Tony the bouncer did refer to the book a number of times, but usually without any mention of it. The author and publisher of the book, Victor Hugo Green was not mentioned nor was the way Green acquired the information for the book. Also, what was  not mentioned in the movie was the fact that the book was actually a survival tool for many African American travelers who often faced a life or death situation on the road. African Americans were not only prevented from staying in hotels and eating in public cafes and restaurants but also refused gas at many service stations. So the importance of The Green Book had more significance and value than reflected in the movie.

Next, the movie failed to represent African Americans (if that indeed was an objective) through the character of the pianist Ali. Although he was portrayed as a brilliant and talented musician, his character appeared as a naïve, innocent, ignorant and an anomaly of a person of color. Why would such a seemingly uninformed person of color agree to a tour through a country whose majority viewed him not as a human being, but somewhat of a spectacle similar to that of an animal that could perform some unusual tricks for their entertainment? The simple fact that Ali’s character was not familiar with fried chicken or rhythm and blues disqualified him from even pretending to be an African American. The character of Ali was en essence a freak, an oddity in the context of the movie since we learn little about his personal life. Throughout the movie Ali performed at the various venues with little or no regard for the fact that he was there only for the entertainment of the European Americans, not as a human being of equal social value. The entire movie focused on a short period of time in his life–from the beginning of the tour until the end of the tour at Christmas. The movie was certainly not about him.

Tony Vallelonga, the Italian from New York, who was hired as Ali’s chauffer and body-guard, was a bigot who accepted the job for the money. Through the course of the tour the two men got to know each other on a personal level, but never as equals. Tony understood that the fabric of ethnic bigotry was part of society’s character and therefore he was in a position to protect Ali from his ignorance on a limited basis. We learn from the movie much about Tony’s life, his family, his friends, aspects of his ethnic identity. In a number of instances Tony saved the day for Ali when confronted by European American bigots. Although the two men grow closer together in accepting one another, that acceptance was as members of two distinct ethnic identities and character roles. The movie came closer to being Tony’s story rather than a story about a book or a pianist of color.

Between the two characters of Ali and Tony, the one that seemed to grow in understanding human relationships was Tony. Ali’s character was that of a spoiled and somewhat controlling talented social orphan who just happened to be a person of color. Ali’s knowledge of The Green Book seemed limited at best as was his awareness and understanding of the African American experience in America. The most important thing to him was his talent and the opportunity to perform before mainly European American audiences and, of course, money.

Although some aspects of the movie were entertaining in a limited context, the overall effect was that of disappointment because nothing of value was gained from the experience of the characters development. Tony arrived home to the welcome of his family and friends who still retained their biases of eggplants. Tony learned to accept Ali, but that acceptance did not extend to all people of color, just Ali.

Ali’s character turns out to be that of a sad, lonely and pathetic individual who never learned the value of family, friends, and acquaintances. African Americans cannot live successfully in America without the support from others which Ali experienced when he visited the local African American club in the town where he was supposed to perform. The movie ends on a sad and tragic note when Ali appears at Tony’s home to save himself from alienation at Christmas not knowing that he was simply an eggplant coming in from the cold.

 

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Paul R. Lehman, Letterman’s comment about Mrs. Obama and chicken shows lack of class.

April 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Posted in African American and chicken, American history, Col. Sanders, Conan, David Letterman, Don Rickles, Jay Leno, Matt Soniak, Michelle Obama, Mrs. Obama, Pope Francis, Slavery, spicy chicken, talk-show host | Leave a comment
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Entertainers like stand-up comics and talk show host are given license to make remarks about people of prominence as long as the remarks are taken as entertainment. People like Don Rickles or Jay Leno can make statements about important people with the intent of getting a humorous response—a laugh or smile. Although the comments regarding these people might seem disparaging, they are spoken without negative or denigrating intent. For example, Conan O’Brien, host of his TV show “Conan,” stated in a recent Monologue that “In a speech, Pope Francis criticized the Mafia and urged its members to repent. Which is why now every morning the Pope makes his assistants start the popemobile.”
We all realize that Conan’s remarks were meant to get a laugh, and not to call any negative attention to the Pope. Sometimes, however, the remarks of some entertainers can cross the line of acceptability and in doing so result in negative reactions. A case in point concerns the remarks of David Letterman in a recent Monologue. He stated that “First lady Michelle Obama is in China. Today she was busy doing some official business. She placed a wreath on the grave of General Tso, the creator of spicy chicken.”For someone to find meaning in this statement, he or she would have to have knowledge of Michelle Obama, General Tso and his chicken, and the history associated with African Americans and chickens.
We are generally familiar with America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, and know her to be an intelligent, attractive, and graceful young lady. We also know that she is an African American and a very patriotic person. She has introduced the country to a number of her interests in programs that address people concerns such as obesity, especially in the youth of America. So, any reference to Michelle relative to her concern for obesity and food would be considered in order. However, the Letterman comment had no relations to Mrs. Obama’s program on obesity. Whether it was stated out of ignorance, disrespect, bias, we do not know. What is for certain, however, it was not meant as a compliment. As a representative of the United States of America, Mrs. Obama’s reason for visiting China was to promote education which she did while showing respect for the host country. One of her activities did not include laying a wreath at the grave of an honored Chinese leader, especially, General Tso.
The reference to General Tso is not necessarily a familiar to many people because it is not a nation-wide product. The Letterman comment seems to suggest a likeness of the General to the famous Col. Sanders of the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand. But who is General Tso?In an article by Matt Soniak, Who Was General Tso? in mentalfloss.com gives us some insight on the general:“Zuo Zongtang (sometimes written as Zu? Z?ngtáng or Tso Tsung-t’ang) was one of the greatest military leaders of China’s long and storied history. Zuo’s life as a military hero is well documented (there’s even a billboard on the road going into his hometown that features his likeness), but his connection to the chicken dish named after him is a different story.” Soniak continues, “ Food historians know this much for sure: the dish is a loose interpretation of an old Hunan dish called chung ton gai (“ancestor meeting place chicken” or “ancestral meeting hall chicken”). After that, it’s all a matter of whom you ask.” The spicy chicken associated with Letterman’s comment is popular in New York and Canada.
Most people who have studied American history learned about slavery in a general sense and recognize the negative effects of that system. Few really know about the unhealthy and unbalanced diet of many of the slaves. The phrase “Soul Food” is popularized today and brings to mind happy memories of family and loved ones gathered together for occasion. The fact of the matter concerning soul food is that it represented what the slaves were given to eat. Because of their work schedule, slaves did not have the time or necessities to prepare wholesome meals. Most of the food was fried in pig fat or lard.
The majority of the meats available to slaves were pork and beef. The exception was meat acquired from fishing and hunting; chicken was not a daily dietary item. Slaves had no time or place to raise chickens, except when permitted, in the yard, or as known today, free-range. So, for the slaves to have chicken was not a daily occurrence. To associate the eating of chicken with slaves and/or African Americans is to cast a discerning eye on the hardships and like of privileges granted to them in captivity. In essence, the reference is demeaning and denigrating in that it makes fun of a people held in bondage and deprived of basic necessities.
So, when Letterman made his comment about Mrs. Obama placing a wreath at the grave of General Tso, the creator of spicy chicken, he was, in effect, calling attention to a serious miscarriage of justice relative to human beings held in slavery and poverty. The complaint here is not the fact that Letterman chose Mrs. Obama as the subject of his comments, he has every right to do so, but his reference speaks to her personal history as an African American and a descendant of slaves. The reference to African Americans eating chicken is a reminder that they were once not considered human beings, but animals. After slavery, many African Americans became farmers and raised chickens as well as pigs and beef. But the reference to chickens still strikes a sour note about slavery and poverty. So, for Letterman to make a statement in that context shows ignorance or arrogance or bias or all three.
No one wants to deprive comics or talk-show hosts of their freedom of speech or the right to poke fun at people of note, but some consideration of the ramifications of some remarks should be taken to avoid feelings of insensitivity. The problem is in the context, not the chicken. Rather than poke fun at Mrs. Obama, Letterman’s remarks reflect directly on him and his lack of judgment and class for making the comments.

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