- The movie “Green Book” tells the story of an Italian-American bouncer named Tony Vallelonga who drives African-American classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley on a concert tour through the Deep South in the 1960s.
- Starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, the movie has generally been praised by critics.
- It has also garnered controversy, including for its portrayal of real-life events.
- Some other issues include past allegations of sexual misconduct by director Peter Farrelly and a 2015 anti-Muslim tweet by co-writer Nick Vallelonga.
- The film has also been criticized by Dr. Shirley’s family.
- “Green Book” was nominated for five Oscars.
- It won three: best picture, best original screenplay, and best supporting actor.
Since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and its release in theaters in November, the movie “Green Book” has garnered plenty of praise as well as criticism.
The comedy-drama is based on the real-life story of Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen) who drives African-American classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour through the Deep South in the 1960s.
But despite general praise from critics and numerous award nominations and wins, including three Golden Globes and three Oscars, the film has become controversial for its portrayal of real-life events as well as criticized by Dr. Shirley’s family. There are also past allegations of sexual misconduct by director Peter Farrelly and anti-Muslim tweets from 2015 by co-writer Nick Vallelonga, who is also the real-life son of Tony Vallelonga.
Here are five controversies that have caused trouble for “Green Book.”
There have been concerns that the movie is a “white savior” film and perpetuates negative stereotypes of African-Americans.
Other than the fact that it is written and directed by white men, “Green Book” has also been called a “white savior” film, in which a white man takes center stage in a story about a black man. There have also been suggestions that Shirley’s character in the film is simply there to help Vallelonga become a better person, making Shirley’s character a “Magical Negro” stereotype.
However, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has argued against those accusations in a column for the Hollywood Reporter, as well as other scandals, saying that the film remains an important story for people to see on screen.
“The film is much more effective from Tony’s point of view because the audience that might be most changed by watching it is the white audience,” he wrote. “When black people see a movie about historical racism like Nate Parker’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ or Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave,’ we know exactly what kind of horrific cruelty we’re going to witness. Our perception of racism will not be changed because we live it daily.
“We also know that after viewing the movie, some white people will be self-congratulatory and dismissive by saying, ‘Well, at least it’s not like that anymore.’ But others will be moved to see how those events in history have shaped our current challenges. Black people watching ‘Green Book’ will recognize Dr. Shirley’s painful journey and be inspired by his accomplishments no more and no less than if the story had been from his point of view.”
Dr. Don Shirley’s living relatives have argued the film is “full of lies.”
Shirley’s youngest and last-living brother, Maurice Shirley, called the film “full of lies” on NPR’s 1A Movie Club in November, and other living relatives have also stepped in to denounce the accuracy of the film.
The film depicts Shirley as estranged from his family and the black community, but his relatives all strongly oppose that portrayal. His niece, Carol Shirley Kimble, called into 1A and said the film is “once again a depiction of a white man’s version of a black man’s life.”
After hearing Shirley’s family’s reactions, Mahershala Ali apparently called Maurice Shirley to apologize.
“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,'” Edwin Shirley III told Shadow and Act.
In response, Vallelonga told The Hollywood Reporter he interviewed both his father and Shirley in the 1980s for research, and Shirley agreed with requests that Vallelonga not interview anyone else. Shirley also reportedly agreed that the script would only focus on his and Vallelonga’s relationship.
Viggo Mortensen used a racial slur at a post-screening Q&A.
At a post-screening Q&A in November, Viggo Mortensen, who plays Tony Vallelonga in “Green Book”, was speaking about racial progress in America and used the N-word while sitting right next to Mahershala Ali.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Mortensen apologized for using the word.
“In making the point that many people casually used the ‘N’ word at the time in which the movie’s story takes place, in 1962, I used the full word,” he said.
“Although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man. I do not use the word in private or in public. I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again.”
Ali himself also released a statement, accepting Mortensen’s apology without condoning his actions.
“However well-intended or intellectual the conversation may have been, it wasn’t appropriate for Viggo to say the ‘n-word.’ He has made it clear to me that he’s aware of this, and apologized profusely immediately following the Q&A with Elvis Mitchell. Knowing his intention was to express that removing the N-word from your vocabulary doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person as a racist or participating in actions or thoughts that are bigoted, I can accept and embrace his apology.”
Co-writer Nick Vallelonga apologized for an anti-Muslim tweet from 2015.
In 2015, Nick Vallelonga, a “Green Book” co-writer and the real-life son of the film’s subject Tony, responded to a tweet where Donald Trump claimed “thousands” of people in New Jersey cheered after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Vallelonga tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump 100% correct. Muslims in New Jersey cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news.”
The tweet resurfaced earlier this month and Vallelonga apologized, saying: “I want to apologize. I spent my life trying to bring this story of overcoming differences and finding common ground to the screen, and I am incredibly sorry to everyone associated with ‘Green Book.’ I especially deeply apologize to the brilliant and kind Mahershala Ali, and all members of the Muslim faith, for the hurt I have caused. I am also sorry to my late father who changed so much from Dr. Shirley’s friendship and I promise this lesson is not lost on me. ‘Green Book’ is a story about love, acceptance, and overcoming barriers, and I will do better.”
Director Peter Farrelly apologized after it came out that he used to flash people on set as a joke.
“Green Book” director Peter Farrelly also had to apologize earlier this month after a 1998 Newsweek article resurfaced in The Cut saying Farrelly was known for flashing his penis on set as a joke.
He apologized in a statement saying: “I was an idiot. I did this decades ago, and I thought I was being funny, and the truth is I’m embarrassed, and it makes me cringe now. I’m deeply sorry.”
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