Updated: Jun 29
This film's core thought and social issues are obviously embodied by the African American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who was educated in the USSR and hires the Italian-American bouncer, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), as his driver/ assistant for the musical performance tour across the continent of US from the north (N.Y.City) to the south (Birmingham, Alabama) in post war era.
Two social issues - Racism and Capitalism - are concerned here, rather than the lack of literacy of the working class protagonist, Tony. One is the class relationship between the capitalist class and the working class; the other one is between the African and the Caucasian. The family relationship (loneliness caused by Tony's tour assistant job, which has an emotional effect between both Tony and his wife) is something additional to these core social issues concerned in this film.
Among all the locations they travelled to, I am personally familiar with Louisville, KY, where the famous Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) lived as a hometown. KFC is also headquartered in that town. When Toni enjoys KFC fried chicken and throws its bone and a coke away from the car window while driving on the town road, we can clearly hear his disgusting bad behaviour that makes his working class look a bit unenlightened. It also makes us uncomfortable while seeing the film. However, the fight scene in the bar at that town is a resemblance to what had happened to Muhammad Ali during his earlier age in Louisville when he was refused from entering a restaurant in that way.
Besides this, the abusive Caucasian police officers falsely flag and arrest Don and Tony in sundown town driving a car on a rainy day. This kind of racist tendency is also a typical everyday scene in American society. A capitalist/African American pianist, Don teaches the illiterate Tony during his job on the tour to help him, sending far better written letters to his wife as a sign of Tony's personal development and improvement of his disgusting behaviour. The most tense moment of this film is when Don refuses to do the final performance after he gets discriminated against by the conservative, racist restaurant manager from entering the place for dinner.
His brave decision to break the deal on such an awkward business occasion was neither for business profit nor reputation, but it was for protecting his human dignity. Remember making a decision is the essence of plotting and the entire story telling to express something important and identifiable for audiences and society in general. Of course, the film is not far-left-class war stuff, it is ordinarily intended to harmonise both racial difference and class conflict with such a happy ending. The entire framework of film construction is a typical capitalist one.
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