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At Large

A ‘small’ movie about a big issue

“Green Book” the movie title is taken from a travel guide, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” written by Victor Hugo Green and meant for use by African-Americans who had to travel around the segregated 1960s American South. The “Green Book” suggests motels and restaurants where blacks were “allowed” in without fear of discrimination or, worse, police attention.

This is the same guide book that record producers hand Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga when he is hired as a chauffeur/bodyguard for “Doc” Don Shirley, a renowned black pianist who is touring the “Jim Crow” South for a series of concerts. The tour takes place in the early 1960s, at the height of the American Civil Rights struggle, though many of the issues that crop up in the course of the movie are still debated to this day.

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Directed by Peter Farrelly, who is better known for his comedic works, and written by a trio that includes Nick Vallelonga, son of Tony Lip, “Green Book” gives audiences a “small” view of the larger and more fundamental racial divide in the United States.

Recently, “Green Book” was cited as best motion picture-musical or comedy, in the Golden Globe Awards and won for Mahershala Ali, who played Shirley, recognition as best supporting actor. Representatives of the movie’s local distributor Solar Films say that at the time of the preview, “Green Book” had yet to secure a play date at local cinemas. But I guess the Globes recognition and strong word of mouth will ensure that local audiences will at least get to see the film.

Perhaps race or civil rights may not resonate all that much with Filipino audiences. But at the heart of “Green Book” is a story of friendship and family, unexpected and unusual, but forged over two months (the “real” road trip allegedly took a year) on the road as Doc Shirley (Ali) and Tony Lip (a nearly unrecognizable Viggo Mortensen), along with the two members of Shirley’s band, navigate the endless roads and highways of America and negotiate the more complex paths of racism.

Highlighted, too, in the film is the issue of class and culture. Tony Lip and Doc Shirley first meet when the former bouncer visits the distinguished pianist in his apartment above Carnegie Hall. Doc Shirley is clad in an elegant caftan and sits on a stylized throne, served hand and foot by a butler from India. In this setting, Tony Lip feels awkward yet awed, but once on the road the pair sort out their differences, including who between them is “blacker” than the other.

Critics have slammed the movie for “simplifying” the issues that underlie the “true story” behind “Green Book.” But the straightforward, often humorous, sometimes pained depiction of events brings the issue of racism closer to the understanding of common folk, including Filipinos. And as has been proven by recent events, especially by remarks uttered by our perpetually “politically incorrect” President, race is very much an issue among us Pinoys, though buried deep in our subconscious, surfacing as uncouth humor and the most dismaying stereotypes.

* * *

You might still remember the movie “Cool Runnings,” about the first-ever bobsled team that competed in the Winter Olympics “despite never having seen snow.”

Well, we might see a reprise of that scenario with the recent announcement that the country is fielding two two-man bobsled teams in the upcoming Alberta Cup Provincial Championship. The ultimate goal of this offbeat endeavor? Participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

The body behind the bobsled team is the Philippine National Bobsled Luge and Skeleton Association (PNBLSA), headed by Thelmo “Buddy” Cunanan Jr., the first organization of its kind in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia.

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The bobsled team is composed of members of the Philippine Coast Guard, which partners with PNBLSA “to develop the sport of bobsled.”

Though team members trained in Innsbruck, Austria, and competed in derbies in Europe last year, Cunanan says they are eyeing a more permanent base in Calgary, Canada, pitting the team against some of the best North American bobsledders and, it is hoped, paving their way to Beijing.

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TAGS: At Large, Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, Cool Runnings, Filipino bobsled team, Green Book, Mahershala Ali, Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, racial disciminiation, racial segregation, Rina Jimenez-David
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