Green Book: Controversy & legacy

The film that won the best picture award at Oscar’s in 2019 is the Green Book. The story takes us on a concert tour that Dr. Donald Shirley, a renowned classical and jazz pianist took in the Deep South during the segregated era of 1962.  

In this journey, he is accompanied by his Italian American driver, Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip who is a tough guy from the Bronx chosen particularly for this risky job of a temporary chauffeur and security guard. Tony was prejudiced against blacks before his trip; had stereotypical assumptions and occasionally used racial slurs. Still, he got this job because of his skill of passing through any kind of trouble, thanks to his ‘bullshit artistry’.  

Despite having quite opposite personalities, the two men were able to form a bond that overwhelms the audience heart with warmth. Dr. Shirley deliberately took on this journey to the hostile part of the country because it takes courage, as his band member said ‘to change people’s hearts’. 
Going through the difficult times together, both understood each other‘s struggles and form a friendship that will illuminate until their death.  

             Image result for green book pinterest                                        

However, this film has received criticisms for various reasons. It has been the center of controversy since its release. The filmmakers didn’t contact the family of the Shirley for any information and the family said that the portrait of the artist as depicted in this film is false. Shirley’s cousin said that the film is once again the depiction of a white man’s version of a black man’s life. 

 Critics accused this film of having racial cliches and hinting to have found the solution or rather ended the racial prejudices. People are even discussing the credibility of a white filmmaker to make films on black people.  

The son of Vallelonga addressed the controversy and said, ‘If you’re discussing the Don Shirley family thing, that falls on me; but Don Shirley himself told me not to speak to anyone.’ He told the journalists that the pianist insisted, ‘If you are going to tell the story, you tell it from your father, me. No one else.’ 

Despite the disputes, the film scored the top prize at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and at People’s Choice. The director, Peter Farrelly said at the acceptance speech, ‘the whole story is about love. It’s about loving each other despite our differences.’ 

Fascism’s beginning in Italy

The Great War has ended finally. After the death of around 20 million people and even a greater number wounded, a peace treaty has been signed. Italy fought alongside the Triple Entente and came out as one of the victorious nations.

But the country was devastated- inflation, heavy unemployment due to the reconstruction of industries, a high cost of living and an unprecedented wave of protests. Internal divisions led to social turmoil— workers were demanding an improvement in their work conditions, decrease in work hours and good pay. To attain the results, they occupied the factories. Nationalists and landowners were angry too as they didn’t receive the land promised to them during the war. There was a great dissatisfaction for this ‘mutilated victory’.

Yet, the government with Giovanni Giolitti as a head didn’t attempt to bring any order inside the nation. He took a liberal approach and was convinced that these strikes will halt without any kind of intervention.

                          Occupation by the Red Guards in 1920

Benito Mussolini took the action eventually by setting up Fasci Italiani di Combattimento in 1919. Initially, this was a political movement of a para-military character emerged as a reaction to the protests of the working class and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Mussolini himself was a former leading exponent of the Socialist Party but was expelled when he favored the intervention of Italy in the war. Tensions escalated and the fascists started attacking the protesters on street. The bourgeois, property-owners, middle-class managers and leaders supported the fascists as Mussolini, for them, was a ‘right man’ who can bring peace and order back.

Nonetheless, they were anti-democratic and anti-socialist. Organized in squads known as Blackshirts their violence flared, methods became harsher and intimidation grew as the power expanded. The National Fascist Party was created and a mass demonstration took place in 1922 with Marcia su Roma. The king, Vittorio Emanuele III, didn’t call the troops to repress this coup. Instead, he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister, giving him the political powers.

                                                      Squadristi & Fascists

After ascending to power, it was a time to legitimize his rule. Thus, he changed the electoral laws (Acerbo law): a political party which would obtain over 25% of the votes will automatically have 65% of the seats. And like this, the National Fascist Party won the election of 1924. He validated the Blackshirts by making them a military organ known by the name of Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, an all-volunteer militia of theKingdom of Italy. Then he formed the Opera Nazionale Balilla, an institution aimed at young people in order to gain consensus and convert the youth into a political weapon. Media was under the control of the regime. The education system was structured in accordance with the fascist ideologies. The focus was to evoke physical courage and patriotism. At this time, there was no space left for anti-conformism or rebel.

                Giacomo Matteotti, a member of the Socialist Party

One noted case is of Giacomo Matteottia socialist politician who openly spoke against the brutality and election irregularities in the Parliament. Later, Matteotti disappeared and his corpse was found buried outside the city. Fed up with all this, the opposition withdrew from the chamber; an event that is recalled today as ‘Aventine Secession’.

I’ve said my piece. Now you prepare my funeral speech — Giacomo Matteotti

Mussolini took the political, moral and historical responsibility of everything that happened in recent months hinting the murder of Matteotti. This was the beginning of a terrible time during which there won’t be any constitutional restrictions against his power. Nominating himself ‘Il Duce’, he set on a journey to make Italy a great European power. But future have something horrifying for the entire world that goes beyond any imagination.

Italy, o gentlemen, wants peace, wants tranquility, wants a laborious calm; we will give it to her with love, if possible, or by force if it is necessary.

Mental illness: error & profit

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic — Thomas Szasz

History is full of bizarre events filled with wild beliefs and strange practices. Science hasn’t remained immune when it comes to getting influenced by the socio-cultural views of the time. But being wrong is a part of science, right?!

Let’s dig into some examples narrowing down to the lane of the medical field. One of the commonly known ones is classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Then, people were pathologized because they failed to comply with the authority. Let’s not forget that political disobedience would have been enough to send someone to an asylum. Women had been diagnosed as hysterical for having sexual urges.

Lobotomy, a wise method invented by professionals to treat schizophrenia, depression, and backaches. Sadly, this procedure created memory loss, more mood problems and once even lead to death due to the brain hemorrhage.

Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em
That I got no cerebellum
— The Ramones, “Teenage Lobotomy”

Dysaesthesia aethiopica, an example of scientific racism that explained the laziness among slaves. This is how it’s founder explains it- “much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves, than among slaves on our plantations, and attacks only such slaves as live like free negroes in regard to diet, drinks, exercise, etc.” — indeed, according to Samuel A. Cartwright, “nearly all [free negroes] are more or less afflicted with it, that have not got some white person to direct and to take care of them.”

Let’s listen to his cure: The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint it all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.

Alas, he didn’t think that sickness might exist in the way that the structure of society than in the head of poor slaves.

Fortunately, most of these ridiculous practices have been recognized as pseudoscience. This happened not necessarily due to any scientific evidence. Biology played little to no role whatsoever. Like in the case of homosexuality, it was declassified in 1973 due to the pressure from activists.

Still, we are becoming ‘sicker’ and there are few and few people left who aren’t having any disorder. Those thoughts and feelings that were considered normal previously are deserving a diagnosis now. Normal behavior is being diagnosed as a mental disorder.

DSM, the bible of psychiatry has listed over 300 disorders and some of these can be very misleading. Oppositional defiant disorder, as it is the one who argues with the authoritative figures and denies or refuses to comply. Bingeing, eating a large quantity of food in a short time is also considered an illness now. Disruptive mood dysregulation, a disorder that turns temper tantrums into mental illness. The periods of sadness, or worry, grief, drinking too much caffeine or having caffeine withdrawal are pathologized today. These normal trials of life have been accepted as illnesses and are being propagated by ‘experts’.

The writing is on the wall. ‘Normal’ badly needs saving; sick people desperately require treatment. But DSM-5 seems to be moving in just the wrong direction, adding new diagnoses that would turn everyday anxiety, eccentricity, forgetting, and bad eating habits into mental disorders. Meanwhile, the truly ill would be even more ignored as psychiatry expanded its boundaries to include many who are better considered normal- Allen
Frances

When it comes to diagnosing mental illnesses, there are no medical tests, no scans, no bloodwork, no physiological tissue damage that can diagnose anybody with a mental disorder. Summing up, there is no laboratory measure. So, DSM plays a huge role as the most commonly used manual by clinicians to diagnose any illness. Recently there have been many protests against psychiatry and against its bible. Many of the diagnoses included can label normal people and encourage inappropriate medication use. This brings a rise in the prescription of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

On a per capita basis, inflation-adjusted retail prescription drug spending in the U.S. increased from $90 in 1960 to $1,025 in 2017.

Millions of Americans are being labeled as mentally ill. Prescriptions for antidepressants have tripled in America in the last decade while prescriptions for scientific drugs used to treat anxiety, bi-polar, ADHD, and a myriad of other psychiatric illnesses in infants, children, and adults are increasing exponentially across America. (Blummer and Marcus, 2009). To combat these diseases, daily doses of dangerous and addictive psychiatric drugs are being prescribed. Follow up study on people who take stimulants show the shrinkage in their brain, addiction to the tranquilizers and shortening of the lifespan in case of sedatives. People who have prescribed the sedatives for the life-long period are predicted to have their life cut short up to 20 years.

‘ The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug- say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant — and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.’ Robert Whitaker

Labeling people or stigmatizing the human experience as mentally ill can’t bring some hope. Having problems in life is normal but one shouldn’t label it or try to earn from it. But the reports are indicating the opposite. The pharmaceutical industry is profiting from mental healthcare and even distorting psychiatry practice. One of the pitfalls of science that shows the desperate need to fill in.

It has nothing to do with biology. It has to do with power and control and what we think is appropriate or not appropriate behavior- Toby Watson

Charlotte Corday: Angel of Assassination

“She kills us, but she teaches us how to die.” — Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud

Jean-Paul Marat, one of the influential figures of the 18th century was a revolutionary leader and a radical voice during the period. He was a vocal and aggressive opponent of the counter-revolution, a defendant of people’s right and a nationalist who hated ‘the enemies of the fatherland’. He was an eloquent writer and started his own newspaper L’Ami du Peuple in which he unmasked the traitors whom he believed to be enemies of the republic. He was an extremist asking for people to be killed, suggesting

“five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness.”

His writings helped to enrage the mass which eventually ended up in September Massacres — some 1200 to 1400 prisoners were executed and no one went through justice for this carnage.

The Terror. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Some were supportive of this prominent representative of the reign of terror but there were critics too who believed that this instigator of the bloodshed must be halted at once.

Charlotte Corday, daughter of a minor aristocrat and a sympathizer of Girondins was one such opponent. She took to herself this necessary task of assassinating Marat which she undertook to safeguard her country from violence and bloody civil war.

Thus begins her plot of assassination. Initially, she planned to kill him at the Bastille Day in front of the National Convention but soon found out that his target won’t be able to attend those festivities due to his poor health. She reached his house and arranged to meet him on the context of revealing the list of Girondist traitors who were planning an uprising in Caen. She was admitted to his medicinal bathtub and furnished him the list. Then, she pulled a 6-inch kitchen knife and plunged it in his chest.

The Death of Marat, By Jacques-Louis David (1793)

Immediately arrested, Corday was brought to trial. The prosecutor asked him what she intended with this murder. She replied, ‘ Peace! Now that he is dead, peace will return to my country.’

“ Who has inspired you with so much
hatred against Marat.” they asked of her.
“I had no need of the hate of others,” she replied, “I had enough of my own; besides, persons execute badly that which they do not conceive themselves.”

Eventually, she was condemned by the revolutionary tribunal and ordered to be executed by guillotine only after four days from the murder. As her last wish she requested a portrait of her to be painted, “Since I still have a few moments to live, might I hope, citizens, that you will allow me to have myself painted.”

Portrait painted at her request by Jean-Jacques Hauer, a few hours before her execution.

She went to the scaffold wearing red chemise which symbolized a traitor- a person who assassinated a people’s representative.

She resembled the celestial vengeance, satisfied and transfigured. She
appeared, at some moments, to seek in the thousands of visages, a look of intelligence on which her eve might repose.
Charlotte Corday, Her Biography (translated from Lamartine)

Wartime violence against women

“You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” — Alice Sebold

Terror of Nazis was concluding and new dark clouds were engulfing Europe. Allied forces were coming to save but they will distress the vulnerable women and violate them to appease their hunger.

After the war’s end, a pair of smiling, well-dressed Soviet soldiers accost a German woman on a street

From January until June of 1945, there was a mass rape of German women by Soviet Red Army. There aren’t any precise figures available but the estimation states about 2 million victims. According to hospital reports, abortions rates were surging. Even though aborting a child was strictly illegal in Germany, many doctors thought it to be their duty to help these women.

Sexual violence was a revenge tactic — for a crime that Germans committed by invading their motherland. Make their women suffer, establish power by controlling their body and leaving them traumatized with unwanted pregnancies.
“They all lifted their skirts for us and lay on the bed. Two million of our children were born”, boasted one senior leader of a tank company.

Violations were indiscriminating. They were raping every woman from eight to eighty. A young Jewish lieutenant, Vladimir Gelfand recorded in his diary the following observations:

With horror on their faces, they told me what had happened on the first night of the Red Army’s arrival.

‘They poked here,’ explained the beautiful German girl, lifting up her skirt, ‘all night. They were old, some were covered in pimples and they all climbed on me and poked — no less than 20 men,’ she burst into tears.

‘They raped my daughter in front of me and they can still come back and rape her again’, said the poor mother.

“‘Stay here,’ the girl suddenly threw herself at me, ‘sleep with me! You can do whatever you want with me, but only you!’”

Author of German Diary 1945–1946 (Deutschland-Tagebuch 1945–1946) — Notations of a Soldier in the Red Army

Ingeborg Bullert was twenty at the time and dreamed of becoming an actress. She came out after decades to share her distressing experience.

Ingeborg Bullert, one of the victims of Soviet Army sexual violence

Suddenly there were two Russians pointing their pistols at me. One of them forced me to expose myself and raped me, and then they changed places and the other one raped me as well. I thought I would die, that they would kill me.

“My mother liked to boast that her daughter hadn’t been touched,” she says.

There was another anonymous diarist who shared her bed with a senior officer from Leningrad to save herself from the ‘male beasts’.

“By no means could it be said that the major is raping me. Am I doing it for bacon, butter, sugar, candles, canned meat? To some extent I’m sure I am. In addition I like the major and the less he wants from me as a man, the more I like him as a person.

It was not only German to suffer, but women in other parts of Europe also received the same treatment — Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. “The boys should be allowed to have some fun. It’s been a hard war’, justified the ruler of the Soviet Union Iosif Stalin.

One victim of these gang rapes described it as being dead. The whole body is gripped by cramp and you feel repulsion. I can’t tell how many men were there- ten, fifteen. But this went on and on.

Inge Zaun lived in Klein-Machnow was raped “over and over again, sixty times” when she was just eighteen-years-old.

‘How can you defend yourself?’

‘When they pound at the door and fire their guns
senselessly. Each night new ones, each night others. The first time
when they took me and forced my father to watch, I thought I would
die … . Since their captain has taken me as his mistress, it is fortunately
only one. He listens to me too and helps make sure they leave the girls
[her sisters] alone.’

Andreas-Friedrich notes that after 6 May, when the Soviets entered her
neighborhood, German men were lamenting the rape of their daughters
and wives:

Suicide is in the air…
‘Honor lost, all lost’, a bewildered father says and hands a rope to his
daughter who has been raped twelve times. Obediently she goes and
hangs herself from the nearest window sash.

‘If you get raped nothing is left to you but death,’ a teacher declares
to a class of girls two days before the final collapse. More than half the
students came to the anticipated conclusion, as expected of them, and
drowned themselves and their lost honor in the nearest body of water.
Honor lost, all lost. Poison or bullet, rope or knife. They are killing
themselves by the hundreds.

Women took their own lives in advance of the Red Army invasion. (Voller Ernst/Getty)

Delicious food stuffed with terror

Every day we feared it was going to be our last meal.

Margot Wolk was a member of Hitler’s ‘Prison Brigade’, one of the 15 women to test Fuhrer’s food and ensure it is free of any harmful toxins. She was the only one to survive and share her story with the rest of the world.

Margot was a Berlin girl, daughter of a man who was condemned for refusing to join the Nazi Army. She moved to Gross -Partsch, now in northern Poland, after her parent’s apartment was bombed-out by the allied forces. Her husband went to war. Having no other option at avail, she decided to reside at her in-law’s place but little she would have thought what future awaits for her.

She has just arrived at her new house when she got drafted by SS and was assigned as a food taster for the dictator. She was paid around 300 Reichmarks for swallowing this terror-filled food.

So, each morning, she drove off in a bus with other food tasters to eat his lunch. She described, “We boarded a bus with these S.S. thugs on board and drove to house 11 km away and there were 14 other young women around my age there, all from the locality, all Germans.” The women were forced to eat the food and wait for the poison to take its course before it gets served to Hitler.

Being hunger-stricken by the brutal war, the food they ate was satisfying.

“Well, the food was simply wonderful”.

Despite being sacrificing her life, she never got to see the dictator. She only saw her dog Blondi which was later killed by the same cyanide which the Hitler and his bride took for the suicide.

On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg’s bomb exploded but the plot got failed and the women were forced to board in an empty school building nearby. The security tightened further.

‘We were guarded like cage animals’.

After some time, the Red Army was advancing in the area.

By the autumn, rumors were swirling that things were not going well on the eastern front. The Red Army was on its way. And there were stories of atrocities….

Margot knew it won’t end up good for anyone who worked for Hitler. A lieutenant, Oberleutnant Gerhard La Grange, arranged for her escape to Berlin. Other women are believed to be shot dead by the Soviet army.

But the hardships didn’t last there. In the last months of the war, she got caught by Red Army. They made her suffer for Hitler’s crime by captivating and raping her repeatedly for two weeks.

I tried to say I had TB, that I was infected. It did no good. They held me for 14 days and nights and raped me.

At that time, many women and girls suffered intensely from the sexual violence by Red Army soldiers. A report state that ‘ many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army Soldiers’. Violated by the forces, Margot was never able to have any kids.

She was finally reunited with her husband Karl, she said: “On March 27, 1946, I opened the door to a man in uniform with a bandage on his head I didn’t recognize”.The couple lived together until Karl’s death in 1980.

She didn’t share her experience for decades but the memories kept coming to her in dreams. Finally, on her 95th birthday, a local Berlin journalist paid her a visit and she started speaking about her experiences.

I just wanted to say what happened there, she said.