Green Book faced several controversies along its way to the Best Picture Oscar at the end of Sunday's 91st Academy Awards, including the filmmakers' decision not to consult the family of subject Don Shirley before making the movie. Nick Vallelonga, whose father is played by Viggo Mortensen in the film, took the blame for it after the show.
The film stars Mortensen as Tony "Lip" Vallelonga, a racist Italian-American bouncer enlisted by Shirley, a black concert pianist, to drive him on a tour of the Deep South in 1962. According to the movie, written by Vallelonga, Brian Currie and director Peter Farrelly, became good friends during the tour and Tony introduced Shirley to fried chicken, Little Richard and the struggles of average black men and women during the Jim Crow era. Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for playing Shirley.
After the film won Best Picture, Vallelonga was asked about the backlash the film has met.
"If you’re discussing the Don Shirley family thing, that falls on me," Vallelonga said, reports PEOPLE. “Don Shirley himself told me not to speak to anyone."
Vallelonga continued, "He told me the story that he wanted to tell. He protected his private life and all the things about him, miraculous things about him. He was an amazing man. He told me, ‘If you’re going to tell the story, you tell it from your father, me and no one else. Don’t speak to anyone else, and that’s how you have to make it.’ Also, he told me, ‘Don’t make it until after I passed away.’ So I just kept my word to that man."
Back in December, Shirley's family members criticized the movie in interviews with Shadow And Act. Shirley's brother, Dr. Maurice Shirley, called the movie a "symphony of lies." His nephew, Edwin Shirley III, said the movie "was rather jarring" and "just 100 percent wrong."
Edwin said Ali called him and Maurice to apologize.
“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 at the time. “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.’”
The film's depiction of Shirley was not the only controversy for Green Book. In January, Vallelonga apologized for a 2015 tweet in which he agreed with the debunked story of American Muslims cheering the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New Jersey. Farrelly apologized after a 1998 Newsweek article mentioning him flashing his penis on the set of There's Something About Mary resurfaced.0comments
Green Book won Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor Sunday night.
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images