“Green Book” may have won over the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with five Golden Globe nominations, but the family of Mahershala Ali’s character, Dr. Don Shirley, is not happy with the film at all — to the point where the Oscar winner called them to apologize.
In an interview with Shadow & Act, Edwin Shirley III, nephew of the late jazz legend, called watching “Green Book” a “jarring” experience, while Don’s brother, Dr. Maurice Shirley, called it a “symphony of lies.” They said that no one in Shirley’s family was consulted during development of the film, which tells the story of a growing friendship between Shirley and his hired escort, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga.
A friendship that the Shirleys say didn’t exist.
“You asked what kind of relationship he had with Tony? He fired Tony,” said Maurice Shirley, “which is consistent with the many firings he did with all of his chauffeurs over time.”
The family also says that Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga, had asked Shirley for three decades for permission to make a movie about him, which Shirley always refused. The family wasn’t even aware that “Green Book” was being made until they discovered it through an Instagram post by Ali in January 2018. When they reached out to the film’s producers, they told the family that Nick Vallelonga had received permission from Shirley to make the film.
“I met Nick for the first time at the premiere and I told him, ‘I have to give you credit for tenacity because you have been trying to get this thing done for 30 years,’” Edwin Shirley said in the interview. “And that’s when he told me, ‘Oh, yeah, well my father and I went to see him and he gave us his blessing,’ and I told him that was hard to believe.”
And upon seeing the film, Edwin said there were major elements of his uncle’s portrayal that were “deeply hurtful.” Specifically, he pointed out a scene in the film where it’s suggested that Shirley was estranged from his family, something Edwin said was “100 percent wrong.” The film also suggests that Shirley struggled with being African-American and felt disconnected from his race, something his family also flatly denies.
After seeing the film, the family received a phone call from Ali, who apologized for not reaching out to them.
“He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” Edwin told NPR. “What he said was, ‘If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.’”