Green Book Is 'Full Of Lies,’ According To Dr. Donald Shirley's Family

Green Book official movie still Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen

Green Book has been earning some praise for its story and its performances, specifically by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. The latter plays a con artist and enforcer; the former plays a renowned musician who at one point travels through the south to perform when racial tensions are high. However, not everyone is happy with how the movie plays out.

Doctor Shirley's family was not consulted during the making of Green Book. Instead, the movie is mostly told through the perspective of Tony Vallelonga based on stories from his son Nick, who co-wrote the movie. Donald Shirley's family has spoken out several times, including to 1A Movie Club, recounting that the story is "full of lies."

His family in particular seems to not enjoy the fact that Dr. Donald Shirley seems to be a lonely guy in the movie-- the type of guy who was intelligent, careful and creative but who didn't always identify with his own culture. According to journalist Joshua Johnson, who spoke with Donald Shirley's last living brother Maurice Shirley,

He refuses to see the film because it is, in his words, 'full of lies.' He also said that, unlike in the film, Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the black community. He says he had definitely eaten fried chicken before.

In addition, Dr. Shirley reportedly kept his relationships professional, so the movie took some creative license when it came to the friendship between the two men. In fact, the family alleges Tony Lip was eventually fired and quickly during the period of time in question due to his lack of professional behavior (which is shown in the film). Dr. Shirley reportedly was notorious for firing employees, including members of his own trio.

It wasn't so long ago that Dr. Donald Shirley was alive and had been asked to have his life story told. He reportedly was against the idea, as it took his story out of his hands. Edwin Shirley III told Shadow and Act:

I remember suggesting to him that it might be a good idea, 'you can be involved [with the making of the film],' and he just flatly said, 'No, absolutely not. I don't want to have any part of that.' God knows, this is the reason that he never wanted to have his life portrayed on screen. I now understand why, and I feel terrible that I was actually trying to urge him to do this in the 1980s, because everything that he objected to back then has come true now.

Often when biopics come out they are riddled with factual inaccuracies. This happened very recently with another music-oriented biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. That movie amped up drama within the band and with the record label. It also sped up the timeline of Freddy Mercury's AIDS diagnosis.

Therefore, learning that perhaps Tony Vallelonga and Donald Shirley maybe weren't the best of pals as the movie implies would not be a huge shocker. Cutting out members of Shirley's family for dramatic effect to make that story work would be the logical next step in order to make the movie's friendship story work, even if it wasn't true to character for Dr. Donald Shirley. But as is the case with many biopic movies, learning the whole truth may require some research.

The problem may stem from the fact that Tony Vallelonga's son, Nick, has claimed "everything in the film is true." The movie is mostly told from the perspective of Tony Lip and how he saw the series of events, but that hasn't stopped members of Donald Shirley's family from calling it factually inaccurate.

Mahershala Ali, who stars in the movie, has already spoken to the remaining members of Donald Shirley's family, letting them know that he did the best he could with the material he had to work with.

Overall, Green Book has earned mostly good reviews, although it has been called out for de-complicating race relations in the south during the period. We'll have to wait and see if it's still in the conversation when the Oscars roll around. Whether or not the film is one of your favorites this awards season, it looks as if you may want to take the story with a grain of salt.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.