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The Green Book: Guide to Freedom documentary on Smithsonian reveals history of The Green Book

A still from Smithsonian's doc about the history behind the Oscar contender, The Green Book. Pic credit: Smithsonian
A still from Smithsonian’s doc about the history behind the Oscar contender, The Green Book. Pic credit: Smithsonian

Smithsonian Channel is premiering a new documentary from Yoruba Richen, an award-winning, global documentary filmmaker about the real history of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Titled The Green Book: Guide to Freedom for Black History Month.

This must-see educational special goes in-depth with the people, places and stories that informed not just this now-famous book thanks to the recent Oscar-nominated film, but also pre-civil rights African American travelers of the time. It was a lifeline for them.

The Green Book was a way for African Americans to get from one place to another during auto travel safely. Unimaginable in today’s world, but then, in the last century, travel was fraught with all kinds of dangers for those caught unaware of their surroundings.

The growing middle class in the African American communities in the USA meant more car travel and vacations, but as history has shown us, that meant knowing who and where to go to for families who were just trying to enjoy a road trip vacation.

This upcoming Green Book documentary comes on the heels of a the film The Green Book, which is a major award contender at this weekend’s Oscars for the category of Best Film along with key acting award nods too.

It is also weathering the pros and cons and controversy based on its “true story” premise and Peter Farrelly’s comedic CV and past alleged behavior on set — which has also been a key focal point among audiences and critics alike regarding this serious-minded film.

The latest film The Green Book stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as an unlikely pair brought together by need. Mortensen played the average Joe Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip, hired by Ali’s character Dr. Shirley to help him in what was known as the “sundown towns” of the North and the Jim Crow-era South.

The pair were stopped frequently as a working-class white man driving an educated and erudite black man was unusual for the times, to say the least.

Their shared experiences – both pro and con –  created an unlikely friendship as Lip was retaught everything he had learned growing up, the prejudices and the negative preconceived ideas he held about African Americans.  The film has been both lauded and met with criticism for the way in which these two men’s story was told.

Now we’re getting to learn even more about the famous Green Book in a documentary by Richen. Among her recent work, Richen’s film, The New Black was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and GLAAD Media Award.

The official logline from Smithsonian:

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom tells the story of Victor H. Green’s eponymously named travel guide that allowed African Americans to safely tour the country during a time of severe institutionalized racism. The doc film features a wide array of experts delving into the history of The Green Book – historians, business owners and individuals who experienced first-hand the phenomenon of “traveling while black” in pre-civil rights America.

Written and directed by acclaimed documentarian Yoruba Richen, the filmmaker behind The New Black, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom looks at the daily realities that African Americans faced on the road – the struggles, indignities and dangers, but also the opportunities and triumphs that were won along the way.

The Green Book: Guide to Freedom premieres Monday, February 25 at 8/7c on the Smithsonian Channel.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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