There were a lot of A-list celebrities at last night’s 91st Academy Awards, but no one got as big of a reaction as Civil Rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Arriving on stage with Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give), Congressman Lewis introduced Peter Farrelly‘s Green Book with references to his own struggle for civil rights.

“I can bear witness that the portrait of that time and place in our history is very real,” Lewis said of Green Book’s depiction of racism in the Jim Crow south. “It is seared in my memory. Our nation bears the scars of that time, as do I.”

Before being elected to office, Lewis was one of the six most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, being one of the original Freedom Riders in 1960 and joining Martin Luther King Jr. in organizing the March on Washington in 1963. In 1965, Lewis was beaten by police officers during the famous March on Selma, suffering from a fractured skull of which he bears the scars of to this day. He remains the only surviving member of this incredible group of leaders, and has been serving as the representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district since 1987.


The choice to have a prominent Civil Rights leader like Lewis introduce Green Book was likely a conscious decision on the Academy’s part, particularly given criticism that has accused the film of perpetuating a “white savior” narrative. The film tells the true story of African-American musician Don Shirley’s (played by Mahershala Ali) tour south during the 1960’s, and the friendship he forms with his white and racist driver (played by Viggo Mortensen). The film went on to win Best Picture, as well as scooping up awards for Best Supporting Actor (for Ali) and Best Original Screenplay.

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