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Anytime a movie is done about a real-life person, there are bound to be critics. That’s definitely true in the Green Book movie which uses the real-life guide for Black travelers back in the day as a backdrop to tell the story of pianist Dr. Don Shirley played in the movie by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali.

Shirley developed a friendship with his driver, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortenson) that is portrayed in the movie. While (mostly white) critics are hailing the movie, several Black critics have given it bad reviews.

The Green Book, an important part of history for Black travelers has been marginalized and Shirley’s story is centered around his friendship with a white man largely because Lip’s son was a co-writer on the film. A scathing review of the film said this is was made by white people for white people. 

Shirley’s family has its issues with the movie as well and they have been vocal about them.

Via Shadow and Act:

Green Book tells the story of Tony Lip, a racist white man played by Viggo Mortensen, who is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley, an exceptional, queer Black musician, played by Mahershala Ali, on a concert tour through the Jim Crow South.

The two become unlikely friends, with Lip teaching an isolated Dr. Shirley how to eat fried chicken, listen to Black pop music and bridge the supposed gap between Dr. Shirley and the Black community through music—according to Lip’s version of events, cemented into the screenplay by his son, Nick Vallelonga, who was a co-writer of the film. Beyond entertainment value, in several press appearances for the film, Farrelly and Vallelonga have insisted on the truthfulness of the film.

“Everything in the film is true,” Vallelonga said on NBC Nightly News. “The only creative license we took was combining some stories, time-wise, what happened in this state might have happened in another state. But everything was true, and that was really important to me and Pete the director, that we told the truth.”

On 1A, Dr. Shirley’s family members pushed back hard against that claim and the image of Dr. Shirley as someone who was estranged from his Black family and the Black community in general.

Maurice Shirley, 86, who is Dr. Shirley’s younger and last living brother, spoke to 1A before the segment aired and his response was shared by 1A Movie Club host Joshua Johnson. “(Maurice Shirley) says he refuses to see the film because it is, in his words, ‘full of lies,’” Johnson recounted on air. “He also said that, unlike in the film, Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the Black community. He says (Dr. Shirley) had definitely eaten fried chicken before” meeting Tony Lip.

A niece, Carol Shirley Kimble, also called 1A and left a voicemail for producers before the show aired and it was played during the segment:

“My name is Carol Shirley Kimble. I’m the niece of Don Shirley, supposedly the subject of the movie The Green Book,” she said.

“There was no due diligence done to afford my family and my deceased uncle the respect of properly representing him, his legacy, his worth and the excellence in which he operated and the excellence in which he lived. It’s once again a depiction of a white man’s version of a Black man’s life. My uncle was an incredibly proud man and an incredibly accomplished man, as are the majority of people in my family. And to depict him as less than, and to depict him and take away from him and make the story about a hero of a white man for this incredibly accomplished Black man is insulting, at best.”

Shadow and Act’s managing editor Brooke Obie, who wrote the review, Green Book Is A Poorly Titled White Savior Film, also appeared on the show, saying she was “happy” to give the show its first-ever zero-star review for Green Book.

“The main issues for me with Green Book are that it centers a white man’s experience in what should have been, according to the title, a Black story; and it misrepresents the (Negro Motorist) Green Book and it misrepresents Dr. Shirley. So, whether audiences would enjoy the film should be secondary to questions of whether this film harms Dr. Shirley’s legacy, whether it harms his living family members, and whether it harms Black people as a whole.”

Despite these issues, Green Book has been cited as a likely Oscar contender and was recently named as the year’s best film by the National Board of Review. 

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23 thoughts on “‘Green Book’ Movie Is Full Of Lies, Says Don Shirley’s Family

  1. Patricia Murphy-Hupp on said:

    I was a huge fan of Don Shirley from 1956 to the 80s. We were Progressive California jazz fans I first saw hm at the Black Hawk club and the last time about 1986 at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco. Just saw the film today and my only disappointment was the fact that they did not really include any of his music. I still have many CDs and play them often. He was a wonderful pianist!

  2. I liked this movie. It cast Dr. Shirley in a favorable light while acknowledging his frailties as a man. The ability to change is demonstrated by The Lip.

    White Savior movie? I disagree. They were each other’s savior.

  3. I just saw the fil an hour ago…I AM SUPER SENSITIVE ABOUT HOW ‘WE’ ARE DEPICTED IN FILMS…I never saw this as a ‘white hero’ film at all. I think it would serve the Shirley family well to see the film before passing such harsh, black and white, judgement!

    Now, if Mr. Shirley reserved the utmost privacy about his sexuality while living, that part should have been left out. I don’t believe in ‘outing’ other people. Otherwise, I thought it a great film that demonstrated how people sadly discount the wonderful gains they would receive from interaction with those that they see as ‘others’.

    In our current climate, she think it’s an important film to be seen by EVERYONE!

  4. Jeez…everyone is crazy. A movie is for entertaining. It was a good story about 2 guys with obviously very different backgrounds becoming friends. My husband has been in the movie industry for 50 years and he said it is the best movie he’s ever seen. Why does everything always have to come down to black versus white? Quit tearing it apart and just enjoy it for what it is, an entertaining movie.

  5. John Stevenson on said:

    Totally enjoyed this movie. Tired of the “cotton picking” befooning presence of our race on screen. Black people have the Richest history and culture in the world. Wow!! to see a black man fluently speaking a language other than English. This was a credit to the education and gifting of our people

  6. John Stevenson on said:

    Totally enjoyed this movie. Tired of the “cotton picking” befooning presence of our race on screen. Black people have the Richest history and culture in the world. Wow!! to see a black man fluently speaking a language other than English. This was a credit to the education and gifting of our people

  7. Marilyn on said:

    I just saw the movie and I loved it. Just seeing Mahershala Ali in all of those fine clothes was enough for me. What an incredible actor! It’s the kind of story that we do not get enough of. There are and have been educated, sophisticated and talented black people who we don’t hear about. We need to see those stories. I had never heard of Dr. Don Shirley. After the movie I wanted to know more about him and about his music. I think the family should feel proud, and if the want to set the record straight capitalize on the movie and write their own story.

  8. This movie was the story of a man called “Lip,” a self professed “bullshit artist” who got a job driving Dr Shirley through a tour of the deep South in the era of segregation. Although Dr Shirley is a main character, the movie is not about the Green Book or about Shirley. It’s about how an ignorant bigoted Italian American from New York got to experience Jim Crow segregation and how it changed him.

    To criticize a story told from the perspective of a white man for being from the perspective of a white man makes no sense, especially when an overriding theme is that he earned his nickname for making things up.

    Perhaps it’s not completely accurate. Perhaps Lip wasn’t as ignorant and bigoted as he was made out to be, and perhaps Shirley wasn’t the idealized scholar and musical prodigy who was as far removed from popular culture and Negro culture as he was made out to be. That’s what you’d expect from a character like Lip.

    Of course men and women of color can “tell their own damn stories.” But that doesn’t mean that Italian Americans can’t.

  9. Patricia Gillespie on said:

    What a shame that Dr. SHIRLEY’s family did not see this film. This is a beautiful film about two men from very different backgrounds becoming friends. In no way was Dr. SHIRLEY portrayed in a negative light. You only have to see the film to know that criticisms the family made just aren’t true. I never knew about the Greenbook, but I did know about the horrible things that happened in the South. I’m old enough to remember how hard we protested this in the Civil Rights movement. Anyone working in film knows that a film based on a true story can never be 100% correct. With all the hate going on in our country today, I was so happy to see a film that addressed the issue of racism in an educating way. I’m hoping as many people as possible see it. Maybe it will educate a few people. I know a lot about jazz but never heard of Dr. SHIRLEY but as soon as I saw the film, I ordered his CD. Dr. SHIRLEY’s family should be happy that the film portrays an incredibly talented man who many more people will know about and buy his CDs.

  10. I just saw Green Book and saw a great movie. What I didn’t see was a “white savior” so much as a genius pianist who hired a white street thug to carry his stuff around and beat people up who messed with him, Maybe see the movie and then comment on it.

  11. KINGIIII on said:

    Great film about friendship more than anything else. As for character..Dr. Shirley shines..!!!! He’s not buck dancing but Intelligent and dignified

  12. Kimberlimyles on said:

    The entress o fall the cue saying why racist but we still arise in the film history about how freedom should ring. I enjoy respect of the book to make the audience fill litte in charge.

  13. Dr Shirley is shown as a human with complexities. He is shown as pretty much superior and more accomplished, head and shoulders above any one else in the film. His civilizing effect on the tough-talking Italian is VERY obvious. This is not a white savior film. It’s a film about friendship, about life, about learning.Nothing is back and white. There are many nuances in the film. Go and see it.

  14. Oscar Sylvan on said:

    Haven’t seen it yet but if Vallelonga knew his father was that close friends with Shirley he should have gotten in touch with the family and consulted them at least for “technical advice” along with the appropriate screen credit due them.

  15. Melinda Wells on said:

    Ladies would u feel better if it was a black writer or director .i saw the movie so what part of the movie was not true so I know .if u r upset about the scene where the 2 men were nude what is a lie he was not a child prodigy or a world renown piano player he did not hire a white thug to drive him on tour .the green book on the road was a lie . that he did not drink ditty saw whiskey .that he had perfect dialect . that he was not close to his family .what do you think the south was like in 1962 .was it a lie that he knew Robert Kennedy was it a lie that they drove back to New York Christmas Eve what lady’s . go c the movie the man was a racist in the beginning but after the tour they remain great friends go c the movie lady .before you reply tell me in the movie what was a lie

  16. Melinda Wells on said:

    I saw the movie bit slow in beginning then it puck up . I like the movie very well.where was your uncle downplayed I live in the south .what did you not like he.girl. you need to come see the movie

  17. white folks tend to WHITEWASH OUR TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Which is why if you want to know the real story of a PERSON of COLOR–have another person of color do the screenplay and direct the movie.

    There are several awesome Men and Women of color who have the ability to TELL OUR DAMN STORIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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