Yes, I admit it.
I watched the Academy Awards presentation Sunday night – all of it.
It wasn’t easy.
For the most part, it was little more than a three-hour, heavily scripted, live, free political commercial for anything but the re-election of President Donald Trump in 2020.
There were plenty of barbs about his fight to secure the border.
There were the pretensions about America still being a bastion of white supremacy.
There was the incessant and gratuitous patronizing of women, and I say this as the proud father of five girls and three female grandchildren.
There was the rollout of a semi-coherent 79-year-old Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who had more than a little trouble reading the teleprompter.
And, of course, there was the insipid self-congratulations by an industry hopelessly in love with itself.
So, what made me do it? What made me invest that kind of time in an industry I covered for many years as an insider?
There was one 2018 film that I loved – and I mean absolutely loved. It was “The Green Book,” a movie that tells the story of hope and love that can occur when people with very different kinds of life experiences get to know one another.
And it won Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
But it didn’t get there easily. There was plenty of controversy and opposition. That’s what kept me glued to the tube Sunday night to see how it would all turn out.
First things first: The film is set in 1962, a time when racial bigotry, especially in the Deep South, was still rampant. I remember it well on my first road trip, as a youngster, riding in the car with relatives from New York to Miami. It was my first exposure to segregation – the “no-colored” signs on restroom doors, water fountains and the fact that hotels and restaurants actively discriminated against black would-be customers.
“The Green Book” was the actual guide to the establishments that permitted black Americans to be served – one that would come in handy for Dr. Donald Shirley, the real-life gifted black pianist who had determined, despite the risks, to tour the Deep South, hiring a New York Italian tough-guy bodyguard-driver, Tony Vallelonga, to accompany him.
The movie dramatizes the relationship between the pair over a period of months as the tour unfolds.
It’s enlightening for those too young to have experienced the ugliness of the 100 percent Democratic, racist Jim Crow South – poignant, charming and very funny. In other words, the movie has all the characteristics of good entertainment with a point of view.
The heart and soul of the movie involves the chemistry between best supporting actor Mahershala Ali who plays Shirley and Viggo Mortensen who plays Vallelonga.
The movie had already won Golden Globe awards for best comedy or musical, among other accolades.
The most disturbing and unfair attacks unleashed on “The Green Book” came when some old tweets were unearthed by screenwriter and producer Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, who was inspired to bring this delightful story to the screen. Nick happens to be an old friend of mine, which is a dangerous thing to be when you work in Hollywood.
You know what else is dangerous in Hollywood? Affirming that Donald Trump is right about anything.
Remember when Trump tweeted about seeing Muslims celebrating in New Jersey following the 9/11 attack? He claimed to have seen a live television report about “thousands” celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers in Jersey City. Of course, Trump was pilloried for the tweet by media, which characterized his claims as “fake news.”
Into that controversy stepped Nick Vallelonga who tweeted a link to the local New York ABC News report. The only thing it lacked was the word “thousands.” There weren’t “thousands,” but there was celebrating by local Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the worst terrorist attack ever. Vallelonga got in right. Trump was off only in the claim of “thousand” of celebrants.
It was all true – except for the recollection by Trump of “thousands” of participants.
Not only was Trump vilified, so was Vallelonga when “The Green Book” started to become popular – even though he was absolutely correct in his characterization of the events. CNN accused Vallelonga of making a Muslim slur – one that “that contained an Islamophobic statement.” Nonsense. Vallelonga simply tweeted what he had seen reported on New York’s ABC News report, later validated by an extensive report in NJ.com.
I was concerned for Nick that he would be deprived of a big moment in his movie-making career when he had done nothing wrong except come to the defense of Donald Trump.
Not only did a great movie get its due Sunday night at the Oscars, my old friend Nick Vallelonga dodged a scurrilous politically motivated attack on his honor.