Green Book has been earning some praise for its story and its performances, specifically by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson. The latter plays a con artist and enforcer; the former plays a renowned musician who at one point travels through the south to perform when racial tensions are high. However, not everyone is happy with how the movie plays out.
Doctor Shirley’s family was not consulted during the making of Green Book. Instead, the movie is mostly told through the perspective of Tony Vallelonga based on stories from his son Nick, who co-wrote the movie. Donald Shirley’s family has spoken out several times, including to 1A Movie Club, recounting that the story is “full of lies.”
His family in particular seems to not enjoy the fact that Dr. Donald Shirley seems to be a lonely guy in the movie– the type of guy who was intelligent, careful and creative but who didn’t always identify with his own culture. According to journalist Joshua Johnson, who spoke with Donald Shirley’s last living brother Maurice Shirley,
In addition, Dr. Shirley reportedly kept his relationships professional, so the movie took some creative license when it came to the friendship between the two men. In fact, the family alleges Tony Lip was eventually fired and quickly during the period of time in question due to his lack of professional behavior (which is shown in the film). Dr. Shirley reportedly was notorious for firing employees, including members of his own trio.
It wasn’t so long ago that Dr. Donald Shirley was alive and had been asked to have his life story told. He reportedly was against the idea, as it took his story out of his hands. Edwin Shirley III told Shadow and Act:
Therefore, learning that perhaps Tony Vallelonga and Donald Shirley maybe weren’t the best of pals as the movie implies would not be a huge shocker. Cutting out members of Shirley’s family for dramatic effect to make that story work would be the logical next step in order to make the movie’s friendship story work, even if it wasn’t true to character for Dr. Donald Shirley. But as is the case with many biopic movies, learning the whole truth may require some research.
The problem may stem from the fact that Tony Vallelonga’s son, Nick, has claimed “everything in the film is true.” The movie is mostly told from the perspective of Tony Lip and how he saw the series of events, but that hasn’t stopped members of Donald Shirley’s family from calling it factually inaccurate.
Mahershala Ali, who stars in the movie, has already spoken to the remaining members of Donald Shirley’s family, letting them know that he did the best he could with the material he had to work with.
Overall, Green Book has earned mostly good reviews, although it has been called out for de-complicating race relations in the south during the period. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s still in the conversation when the Oscars roll around. Whether or not the film is your cup of tea, it looks as if you may want to take the story with a grain of salt.