Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said that the Best Picture-nominated “Green Book” was a “missed opportunity” to portray the nuances of an African American character like Dr. Don Shirley. Johnson also said that the film relied on a “negative stereotype” and a “false storyline.”
Johnson spoke with TheWrap during the Television Critics Association press tour. And while he praised Mahershala Ali’s performance as Don Shirley, he said that director Peter Farrelly’s film is inaccurate and a “setback.”
“Mahershala Ali’s portrayal, I mean, his skills were great. So I see that as a missed opportunity to have great content that’s more accurate than not,” Johnson told TheWrap at TCA. “So for me, it was great acting skills for Mahershala, with a false storyline that’s masquerading to be true.”
Universal didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on Johnson’s comments.
Ali was nominated for an NAACP Image Award on Wednesday, the film’s only nomination.
Johnson also said that the writers failed to speak with Shirley’s family about his character. “Green Book” was co-written by Nick Vallelonga, the son of the white character Tony Vallelonga who was portrayed by Viggo Mortensen. According to Vallelonga, Shirley asked Vallelonga to not contact the Shirley family while he was researching the film. And Vallelonga also told TheWrap that Shirley confirmed all the stories he had heard from his father.
“When you create a movie like ‘Green Book’ and you project as if there’s a white guy introducing a black guy to fried chicken — a traditional African American dish — which is patently wrong, the family says that, there was never any conversation with the family about the uniqueness of the character,” Johnson said. “So as a result of that, none of the quality nuances of the character came through and it fell on a very myopic, negative stereotype that should no longer exist.”
Ali previously addressed and apologized for the backlash over “Green Book” after Shirley’s family referred to the film as a “symphony of lies.” Ali spoke with the family directly and said he did not realize that Shirley had living family members with whom he could’ve consulted.
“He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” Edwin Shirley 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.'”
“Green Book” is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.