A core criticism of Peter Farrelly’s film Green Book was its lack of historical context in regard to the film’s title, as well as its failure to center Blackness in a film that touches on the subject of racism in 1960s America.
For those unfamiliar, the film was named after the Negro Motorist Green Book, a pamphlet created by Victor Hugo Green in 1936. The pamphlet contained a list of restaurants, gas stations, hotels and businesses that would service Black travelers, especially if they were traveling in the deep South during the Jim Crow era.
For those looking for a film adaptation centering around the actual Negro Motorist Green Book, look no further than Ruth and The Green Book, an acclaimed children’s book about a young girl who uses the pamphlet as a guide during a road trip with her family from Chicago to her grandmother’s home in Alabama. The children’s book was written by the duo Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. At 20 pages, the book’s simple yet compelling storyline of a family traveling down South during Jim Crow is full of wonder and certainly ripe for a film adaptation.
As it’s #BlackFilmFridays—a time when we at Shadow And Act highlight or reimagine the kinds of movies we want to see, imagine this with us….here’s our rendering of a Ruth and the Green Book adaptation.
For the Abrams, a Black American family from Chicago, affording an automobile is a major symbol of upward mobility and progress. So, when Malcolm, the family patriarch, affords a Sea Mist Green 1952 Buick, the family decides to commemorate this occasion by taking a road trip to Alabama to visit his mother. However, during their trip down south, the family soon finds that their money can’t save them from the racism of the Jim Crow era. Luckily for them, a family friend points them to a gas station that sells The Negro Motorist Green Book, a pamphlet for Black travelers that lists all the restaurants, motels, hotels, gas stations and businesses that would serve Black Americans. With a Green Book, their Green Buick and nothing but hope, Malcolm and his wife Josephine, rely on their 11-year-old daughter Ruth, whose keen sense of direction guides them to their destination.
Saniyya Sidney as Ruth Abrams
The Passage’s Saniyya Sidney would lead the cast as Ruth, a wide-eyed and optimistic 11-year-old Black girl whose worldview will be altered when she embarks on a road trip with her family from Chicago to her grandmother’s home in Alabama. As hinted by her propensity to carry her big brown teddy bear, Ruth is in no rush to grow up, relishing childhood. However, despite her age, Ruth is quite resourceful. During the road trip, Ruth functions as her family’s compass, using the Negro Motorist Green Book and a series of maps, a skill learned by memorizing the subway maps of the Chicago Transit Authority and her experience as a Girl Scout.
Emayatzy Corinealdi as Josephine Neale-Abrams
Middle Of Nowhere star Emayatzy Corinealdi would be Josephine Neale, Ruth’s mother and Malcolm’s wife. Named after the great Josephine Baker, Josephine exudes grace, grit, tact and beauty. As one of the top Black models in America at the time, Josephine’s face has appeared on the covers of Ebony and Jet magazines. A skilled cook, Josephine has parlayed her cooking skills into a successful catering business in Chicago. Having catered for both Black families and wealthy white ones, Josephine has straddled the line between privilege and prejudice. The more realistic of Ruth’s parents, Josephine is keenly aware that no matter how green their money or luxurious their car, the Abrams are not exempt from the racism that lies ahead on their trip to Alabama. With this knowledge, Josephine does her best to shield and shelter Ruth from the racist ilk that permeates Jim Crow America but quickly learns that she can’t hide her from the world forever.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Malcolm Abrams
Aquaman star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II would portray Malcolm Abrams, Ruth’s father and Josephine’s husband. An even-keeled man with an affable exterior, Malcolm works as a marketing specialist at one of Chicago’s premier advertising agencies. Malcolm is a proud practitioner of the four P’s of marketing: product, place, price, and promotion. One of the few Black employees in an executive position, Malcolm’s job has imbued him with the skill of persuasion. This skill comes in handy when pitching a concept in a boardroom full of white men, or convincing Josephine to accept his hand in marriage. His job has also afforded him a scale of upward mobility, evident when he purchases a Sea Mist Green 1952 Buick and takes his family on a road trip to Alabama to visit his grandfather. However, Malcolm is still a bit naive when it comes to racism in the deep South and believes his money and pitching skills will aid in convincing “Whites Only” establishments, such as hotels and restaurants, to provide his family service. However, despite his efforts to shield his frustration from his daughter Ruth, Malcolm’s affable exterior sheds when the owner of a “Whites Only” motel denies the Abrams family access. Malcolm soon learns that in the era of Jim Crow, racism is the product, America is the place, death and danger are often the prices, and anti-Blackness is the promotion. By the end of the film, Malcolm’s optimism erodes when he learns that equality for Black Americans is a battle hard won, no matter how convincing the pitch.
Aldis Hodge as Eddie Boynton
Former Underground star Aldis Hodge would play Eddie, Malcolm’s childhood best friend and confidante. Malcolm and Eddie would go to school at Tennessee State University, where they would combine their shared love of jazz and start a band together. Both men would go on to become members of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. A skilled saxophonist, Eddie can be often be found making music and quaint tunes with his songbird wife, Alice. Both Malcolm and Eddie commiserate over the fact that they believed their service in World War II would change how Black Americans were treated. Eddie eventually warns the Abrams family about the Jim Crow laws of the South and points them toward a gas station that sells Green Books.
Danielle Brooks as Alice Boynton
Orange Is The New Black star Danielle Brooks would surely give a memorable supporting role as Alice, Eddie’s wife, and Josephine’s best friend. A talented vocalist with an angelic voice known to cut through all the noise, Alice and Eddie often hold impromptu musical gatherings at their house. During the Abrams’ last night with the Boyntons, Alice sings tunes from Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday.
Tina Lifford as Mrs. Melody
Queen Sugar star Tina Lifford would be Mrs. Melody, the congenial owner of a “tourist” home for Black travelers. She is the first place the Abrams’ family find with the Negro Motorist Green Book. With a spirit that warms the coldest of hearts, Mrs. Melody can never be found without a smile on her face. She even declines Malcolm’s money and lets the Abrams family stay at her home for free. The total embodiment of love and kindness, Mrs. Melody leaves a memorable imprint on Ruth’s heart long after the family departs for Alabama.
CCH Pounder as Lorraine Abrams
Film and television legend CCH Pounder would be Lorraine Abrams, Malcolm’s mother and Ruth’s grandmother. A gifted storyteller, she often tells Ruth Black American folktales such as “Brer Rabbit” and the “Tar Baby,” “Anansi the Spider,” “Boo Hag,” and “John Henry.”
All photos: Getty Images