The University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts invited “Green Book” producer and university alumnus Jim Burke to deliver the keynote address for its commencement ceremony, but some students and faculty aren’t happy with the decision.
The movie was widely criticized for its use of racial slurs and for employing a “white savior” trope in which Viggo Mortensen’s character repeatedly gets co-star Mahershala Ali out of jams along their musical journey through the south in 1962.
To many’s dismay, the film managed to win best picture at the 2019 Academy Awards.
“‘Green Book’ is a white savior film. It allows and encourages a state of cognitive dissonance for white audiences between their perceived sense of self and racism,” Becca Mayo, a fifth-year student studying cinema and media culture, told the Minnesota Daily.
Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature instructor Brad Stiffler said the movie’s main problem is “its depiction of interpersonal relationships as antidotes to racism,” saying it simplifies “systemic and institutional racial problems.”
“It’s something that this film especially seems to fall in that trap of reducing the complexity and the seriousness of race and race relations in the U.S. to this sort of caricatured idea of ‘Can these two people be friends or not?’” he said.
“It’s taking us back to a period in American racial history and racial conflict in the Civil Rights Movement that we kind of look back on and say, ‘Oh, we’ve come so far.’ It’s always about white salvation,” film studies coordinator Graeme Stout added, but said he wasn’t surprised that it won best picture.
“It’s a feel-good, happy film that suggests, ‘Hey, racism is over in an era of Donald Trump,’” he continued.
Another student criticized Burke for his involvement in the movie “The Descendants,” which is set in Hawaii, but didn’t include any native Hawaiians in its cast.
“I hope he sees the diverse graduating class our school has and tries to incorporate that diversity into future movies,” the student said.
Burke is listed as the keynote speaker for the College of Liberal Arts’ May 19 commencement.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jim Burke” by CW Twin Cities. Background Photo “University of Minnesota Graduates” by the University of Minnesota.