Green Book (2018) is an interesting biographical movie set in 1962, inspired by a true story about a pianist and his driver. It isn’t hard to see why it is a contender for the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it lacks something, and that something is women. It scores poorly for women’s presence and voice and fails the Bechdel test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies). It boasts only one named female character (Dolores, played by Linda Cardellini), and I doubt she appears on screen for ten minutes even though the movie runs over two hours. She plays a supportive role: the wife of Viggo Mortensen, one of the two lead males. Mostly she appears in her kitchen. She makes meals, does dishes, clears the table and serves Mortensen supper. She also has time to appear in her bed in a nightgown. In one scene she reads part of a letter Mortensen sent her to two other women and talks to them very briefly about it, but they seem to be nameless. If they were named it was quick and quickly forgotten. The names of the two lead males on the other hand are mentioned many, many times throughout the film. Mortensen and Mahershala Ali (he plays pianist Dr. Don Shirley) even have a conversation about Mortensen’s name and Ali’s name appears on a banner hung from the front of a building. Mortensen and Ali are not the only two named male characters. There are also the two other musicians in Ali’s trio, his assistant, Mortensen’s friends, co-workers and family members, as well as some men who may be mobsters. A few other women with lines do grace the screen very briefly (e.g. Copa Coat Check Girl and Orange Bird Bartender, who serves the lead males a drink). For the most part though, women are simply part of the background like the cigarette girl in the opening scene.
Even though women are virtually absent from the movie men still talk about them, and the language used is revealing. Women are referred to as “sweetheart” (Copa Coat Check Girl), a “piece of ass,” “that pretty little wife of yours” and “my lovely wife.” Twice Mortensen talks about Pittsburgh being called ‘Titsburgh.’ When a woman at Dolores’ house says something about Mortensen’s letter to a man (her husband?) he replies, “Yeah, as soon as you make a meal.” My ears pricked up when Mortensen mentioned Aretha Franklin, but it was just a flash in the pan that went nowhere. Ali and Mortensen’s characters are interesting and developed. They are not one-dimensional. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Green Book’s women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier