New Documentary Illuminates ‘Green Book’ History That Hollywood Tried to Erase

By Sameer Rao Feb 25, 2019

Documentarian Yoruba Richen says that her latest film, "The Green Book: Guide to Freedom," aims to tell the truth about Victor Hugo Green’s eponymous project that the Oscar-winning "Green Book" Whitewashed

"There’s a righteous anger that can motivate me," she told BET. “The anger about how our history and our experience has been distorted and ignored. Yes, there are these painful stories. But there’s the joy and the survival of us that makes me, over and over again, love the Black community, and admire our experience. With ‘The Green Book,’ it’s not just about fear and violence. ‘The Green Book’ was used and created to help African-Americans find vacation spots. In 1940, Victor Green changed the title to be ‘The Green Book: Negro Motorists’ Guide To Travel And Vacations.’ He added the word ‘vacations.’ And that’s ours. It’s not all just pain and hardship. We have created these communities, and experiences and places for us despite living in a terroristic society."

Richen’s documentary, which premieres on the Smithsonian Channel tonight (February 25), focuses on the books Green created to keep Black travelers safe in a nation plagued by violent segregation. An important component of this history is the entrepreneurship that Black women demonstrated in the hospitality industry.

"These were women entrepreneurs who were serving the community," she said. "Modjeska Montieth Simkins was a civil rights hero in and of herself. Alberta Ellis was, too. You have to remember there were 9,500 listings from 1936 to 1967. There’s a lot of information to mine in ‘The Green Book.’ At one point, when we were figuring [out] the story—‘The Green Books’ are all online, the Schomburg has them all online—we had to click through the pages one by one. We started to see how many women owned businesses. And they had little pictures of themselves next to slogans like, ‘Food like mom used to make’ and ‘Come and rest your head.’ And these were the only places that Black performers could stay."

Learn more about this history when "The Green Book: Guide to Freedom" airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST.