“Green Book” star Mahershala Ali has apologized after the family of pianist Dr. Donald W. Shirley condemned several elements of the film.
“Green Book” tells the story of real-life Dr. Donald W. Shirley, an extremely intelligent Black pianist who travels on a concert tour in the South with his white driver and bodyguard, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. The story was adapted from stories Vallelonga told his son who is a screenwriter for the film. However, Dr. Shirley’s family is calling the portrayal of the pianist a “symphony of lies.”
Some elements from the film the family says are exaggerated and or completely false; for example: Vallelonga just so happened to always be there to save Dr. Shirley, Vallelonga is depicted to be the person who got Dr. Shirley acquainted with Little Richard as an artist, and convinced Dr. Shirley to try fried chicken.
The movie also included a conversation about Dr. Shirley having lost touch with his family and friends. In response, Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley III and his 82-year-old brother, Maurice Shirley fired back at the portrayal saying Dr. Shirley did not consider Vallelonga to be a close friend, and that he was never estranged from his family, friends or his Blackness.
Furthermore, Dr. Shirley’s family says the pianist told Vallelonga’s son that he did not want a film made about their alleged friendship. “I remember very, very clearly, going back 30 years, my uncle had been approached by Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, about a movie on his life, and Uncle Donald told me about it,” Edwin told Shadow and Act. “He flatly refused.” Following their statements to NPR, Ali reached out to the family to extend his apologies.
“I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally. He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” Edwin told Shadow and Act. “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.’”