After the borders of the European Union opened, Lithuania has been seeing an increase in the number of black people arriving in Lithuania. It is no surprise in most of the major cities, especially, in Vilnius. However, the residents of remote smaller towns of Lithuania still find it unusual: they glare at such people and are not keen to accept them into their rural communities. How can adult education facilitate the integration of black people?
Neither lectures, nor conventional seminars will help in this situation. To change people’s thinking inspiring and true life stories of black people are needed. One of such stories is told in a biographical comedy-drama film the “Green Book” directed by Peter Farrelly. The film was inspired by the true story of an African American pianist Donald Shirley which won an Oscar award in 2019. Although the action takes place in the US of 1962, when racial segregation was not abolished, the film helps breaking stereotypical thinking with regard to black people just like in today’s Lithuania. Not only the story of Donald Shirley is important in this biographical drama; transformation of the Italian bouncer Frank Vallelonga called “Tony Lip” by his accomplice is of no less importance. The drama starts with the story of an American of Italian origin Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga who hates black people so much that he throws away the glasses which were used by black people who carried out some household works at his home. However, after losing a job he decided to become a chauffeur and a guard of Dr Donald Shirley.
At the beginning of their acquaintance, the high intellect of the Afro-American pianist holding a doctoral degree in psychology, music and liturgical art is unveiled. Whereas Frank finds it difficult to comprehend that a doctoral degree can be held not only in medicine and that the demons of the Orpheus’ realm are no fairies. Later while travelling with Donald Shirley he writes to his wife in a letter that he happens to find himself in high society which uses complicated words. Through patient explanations of all the subtleties of the high society and advice on how to write a romantic letter to Frank’s wife, Shirley gradually changes the thinking of Frank Valellonga, and Frank starts helping Donald overcome racist attacks which haunt Donald during his concert tour throughout Southern region of the United States.
They establish their friendship after quite some time. At first, Frank clumps: “I live on the street, whereas you sit in your throne; my world is much blacker than yours”. However, little by little, Frank starts realising that Donald Shirley is a genius who is allowed to only stay in hotels for people of colour and who cannot have a dinner in the same restaurants as white people (they use the Negro Motorist Green Book to this end). The true reason for Donald’s loneliness becomes clear to Frank only after the following words by the famous pianist are pronounced: “the rich white pay me to play for them but after I leave the stage I become an ordinary black man again. I am forced to stand this scorn alone because my people do not understand me; I do not meet their standards”. Nevertheless, Donald manages to maintain his dignity in all humiliating racist situations; meanwhile, Frank, who is used to solving all conflicts using his fists, is advised by Donald the following: “You will reach nothing through violence; a man can win only if he retains his dignity”.
However, you could not state that it is Donald who helps Frank find answers to complicated questions. This friendship is enriching for both of them. Understanding Donald’s loneliness, Frank recommends Donald writing a letter to a long-lost brother because, as Frank puts it, “there are many lonely people in the world who are afraid of making the first step.” One more thought expressed by Donald Shirley is extremely meaningful and deep: “It is not enough to be genius; you need courage to change people’s thinking”. Thus the biographical drama Green Book is a story about a true friendship and about a genius who changed people’s thinking.
Renata Jankevičienė has been working as a deputy director of Panevėžys district education centre since 2012; she has organised and coordinated local, regional, national and international projects designed for adult education. Presently she is a coordinator of projects MOVE-ON! and OUR DIGI SPACE under the Erasmus+ KA programme in Lithuania and an expert of the project MOV-UP! under the programme Erasmus+ KA3 and the project Pro-social Values under the programme Erasmus+ KA2. She publishes articles in regional, national and international media. Ms Jankevičienė has been an expert of the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) since 2019.