'Green Book' puts controversy behind it to score a surprise best picture win

Key Points
  • "Green Book" won the Oscar for best picture.
  • The film also took home awards for best supporting actor and best original screenplay.
A still from the movie "Green Book."
Source: Universal Pictures

"Green Book" took home the top prize at the 91st Academy Awards Sunday night despite controversy over the film and the conduct of its creators.

The movie was considered an underdog headed into the ceremony, defeating strong competition from "Roma," "A Star is Born" and "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The film tells the story of a working class Italian-American bouncer who is employed as the driver of an African American classical pianist on a tour of venues in the South during the '60s.

"The story is about love," Peter Farrelly, writer, producer and director on the film, said in his acceptance speech.

'Green Book' and Olivia Colman surprise winners at the Oscars
'Green Book' and Olivia Colman surprise winners at the Oscars

"Green Book," which received a total of five Oscar nominations, won three, including best picture. Mahershala Ali took home the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role as Dr. Don Shirley, the pianist, in the film and Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie won for best original screenplay.

In the weeks ahead of Sunday's ceremony, "Green Book" found itself at the center of a surge of criticism.

Co-writer and producer Vallenlonga apologized in January for a tweet from 2015 that he sent to then-candidate Donald Trump resurfaced. The tweet contained a false, Islamophobic claim that Vallelonga had seen "Muslims in Jersey City cheering" when the World Trade Center towers collapsed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Director Farrelly also apologized last month following accusations of serial sexual misconduct.

In addition, the family of Dr. Don Shirley strongly denied the close personal friendship between Shirley and Viggo Mortensen's character Tony Vallelonga, who is based on writer Vallenlonga's father.

The Oscar win wasn't well received by some, who have long condemned "Green Book" for perpetrating a "white savior" narrative, the notion that people of color can only succeed if a white person blazes the trail for them.

Even in early viewings of the film, critics disparaged it for having a number of racial cliches, including a scene in which Tony convinces Shirley to try fried chicken.

"There is virtually no milestone in this tale of interracial male friendship that you won't see coming from a long way off, including scenes that seem too corny or misguided for any movie in its right mind to contemplate," the New York Times wrote in its review of the film.

Not to mention, Mortensen used the N-word during a post-screen discussion in November when trying to compare the time period in which the film was set and modern day. He later apologized for the remark.

"Green Book" was directed by Farrelly ("Dumb and Dumber To") and earned $144 million at the worldwide box office, Comscore told CNBC on Sunday.

Prior to the Oscar win, "Green Book" took home awards for best picture (musical or comedy) at the Golden Globes and a People's Choice award at the Toronto film festival.

For a full list of the 91st Academy Award winners click here.

— Disclosure: "Green Book" was distributed by NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC.