Peter Farrelly’s friendship drama Green Book is based on a true story about the elegant black pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and the rougher, bouncer-turned-chauffeur Tony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), embarking on a tour through the Deep South in 1962. In the first trailer for the film, one of their initial conversations goes something like this:
Don: “I’ve never had fried chicken in my life.”
Tony: “You people love the fried chicken.”
It’s no surprise that low-key racist becomes a good guy—and dare I say, friend—later on as the two of them navigate a segregated America and learn from each other. Tony is tough guy who looks out for Don, while Don helps Tony write romantic letters to his wife and helps clean him up. Ali has said that the dynamic between the two characters was part of the appeal of taking the role.
“If you look at these two archetypes [in films], it’s so often the black guy is serving as some sort of grounding force and reality check who’s coming from a low-income or working class environment, for the wealthier, more affluent character.” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I really responded to the fact that it was flipped on its head the way that it was, and the fact that it was based on a real relationship.”
The film’s title refers to the guidebooks used by black people traveling through a pre–Civil Rights era America, as Tony himself becomes a human version of a green book for Don. Green Book will make its debut at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in September, and is making its way into theaters on Nov. 21.