Friday, September 30, 2022

Mahershala Ali & Octavia Spencer Respond to ‘Green Book’ Controversy

*As you probably know, the movie “Green Book” is all the rage. The film is the true story of Don Shirley, a queer black classical musician  (played by Mahershala Ali) and his Italian-American chauffeur, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). Recently, the film a great evening at the Golden Globes and this past weekend, Ali won a Critics Choice Award for his portrayal of Don Shirley.

However, behind the scenes, there’s a big problem. You see, Shirley’s family is calling the movie as a “symphony of lies” and condemns its rosy portrayal of Shirley and Vallelonga’s relationship. The family insists that Shirley and Vallelonga had an “employer-employee” relationship, not a friendship.

After the Golden Globes ceremony, the movie’s stars were forced to contend with the film’s reputation. Backstage, Ali was asked to respond to Shirley’s family’s allegations.

“I will say that my job is always the same, and I have to look at what I’m responsible for doing and all the prayers, the energy, the time, the work, I am not one who is going to necessarily throw all that away over things I had no control over and had nothing to do with,” he said.

“I respect the family, I respect Dr. Shirley and his family, and I wish them well. I have a job to do, and I have to continue to do my job as I move on to my next project and treat everyone I work with respect. In this case I didn’t know they were around. I made contact, and I’ve spoken to the studio. I have to move on at this point.”


Mahershala Ali & Viggo Mortensen in Green Book
Mahershala Ali & Viggo Mortensen in ‘Green Book’

Technically, Ali has been addressing this controversy for some time now. After the Shirley family came forward with their complaints, Ali called Shirley’s brother, Maurice, personally. Recounting the call to Shadow and Act, Shirley’s nephew Edwin said, “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.’”

Stop right there. the fact that the Shirley family was not consulted during the film is a problem.

octavia spencer
Octavia Spencer

Al,so backstage at the “GGs,” Octavia Spencer, who also stars in “Green Book” was asked as well to speak about the issue the Shirley family is concerned with. Spencer is also the movie’s executive producer. However, unlike Ali, who answered head-on, Spencer pivoted the question back to what the movie meant to her.

“I’m a little troubled that answering that question could cause them any more distress. What I’d like to say in lieu of anything directed to the Shirley family is what it meant to me,” Spencer deflected. “I have been a part of four films from this era, and it was the firs time I saw a person of color with agency. This is a guy whose story needs to be out there.”

It doesn’t sound good to say, but at this point it appears that The Shirley family will just have to deal with the situation as it is: the movie portrays Don Shirley as a secondary figure in Vallelonga’s story when it should be the other way around.

Damn, that sucks. But what else is new in Hollywood?

Meanwhile, don’t expect the family’s criticism of the film to impede it’s progress during award season in Hollywood. As Refinery 29 states it, if the Golden Globes victory sweep is anything to go by, “Green Book” could still have a big night at the Academy Awards.



  1. I would say this. The story was told from the drivers point of view not Shirley’s. It was his recount of what happened. It was not a biography but a retelling of events that were memorable to the driver. Memorable to the point where it made a huge impact on HIS life. He told the story. It was not only about Shirley. It was about how two different people from two different worlds can make a lasting impression on each other and help each other in a time when they were supposed to be against each other according to society. From what I read,The Lips son had interaction with Shirley growing up so he is able to testify to some degree the validity of this story, but I digress. The Shirley’s can very well do a biopic of Dr. Shirley’s life. Everyone who has seen the Green Book would be more than happy to see it based on what we have seen in the movie. They brought his genius to those who would not have otherwise known of it.

  2. If the family wanted to paint a different picture they should have pitched it themselves. Sounds like sour apples because Vallenlongas son chose to write a book on the stories his father told him. The movie shows how people of different races can come together by putting aside stereotypes and talk and listen to each other.

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