“Do I think that we are permitted to discuss deeper topics in our culture, in films where we also laugh?” asks Oscar and Golden Globe winning actor Mahershala Ali incredulously, on the promotion trail for Green Book. “I think that we certainly should be able to. I think of the most effective comedians – Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle – they’re not talking about no easy subject matter.”
The question arises for a couple of reasons, 1. It won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, 2. It is directed by comedy filmmaker (and very white guy) Peter Farrelly (There’s Something about Mary, Shallow Hal, etc).
“When you talk about films that speak about race or gender equality or inequality, you go down the line of all the things in our culture that are problematic,” says Ali who also won an Oscar for his supporting role in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
“If you just take race, for instance, that societal disease has to be approached and attacked from all different genres and all different angles. From a Barry Jenkins movie that is going to rip your heart out and make you cry, to Spike Lee, who always tends to find a balance between drama and comedy with his own unique brand of storytelling. To what Boots Riley’s been able to do [Sorry to Bother You], to Ava DuVernay [Selma, A Wrinkle in Time] to Amma Asante [A United Kingdom, Belle] to… Pete Farrelly.
“He is not a black filmmaker, but the story has a strong black presence in it. If it means that there’s a certain segment of the population that is not going to see a filmmaker’s films that I just named, they’ll go see a Pete Farrelly film. At least it comes up in the discussion or it enters into their silo, into their echo chamber, because they’re going to see something to laugh. They get sprinkled with a different message that just allows them to think for a moment. I’d have to say that has value. I would never apologise for that.
“There’s so much healing to be had,” he continues. “I think all these films and these stories are all larger conversations about behaviour, and how we’ve treated each other historically or in the moment. It takes this other group over here rallying the troops to inform the group in power that oppression is not okay. Then it moves to the other group that is dealing with oppression, and so our world is constantly calling itself out and trying to heal. I hope that people will be able to watch this film and at a certain point, the race elements of it will begin to dissipate and you will see two guys who just end up becoming friends.”
Although it has been brushed with the comedy brush, Green Book is far from a traditional Farrelly comedy. “People grow and change. How many times do we complain about people being typecast?” asks Ali about Farrelly’s decision to go down a more dramatic route.
“I felt really excited about working with him because as someone who’s done comedy for 25 years to become a Pete, here is my opportunity to work with a first time filmmaker who’s got 25 years of experience. I say first time filmmaker because in his mind going into it, he was thinking and saying and feeling like he was going to do his first drama. He had an excitement and pep in his step, a real buoyancy about this project.”
Green Book is in cinemas January 24, 2019