Family of Dr. Don Shirley: ‘Nothing Will Change’ on Race Relations from ‘Green Book’ Oscar

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The story of Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American man whose travels throughout the Jim Crow South were profiled in therr film Green Book, recently earned an Oscar — but the living family of Shirley sees the reward as a “shame.”

“There’s a depth and nuance they could have got from consulting family but they never did,” Shirley’s niece Karole told the Daily Mail. She also claimed that Dr. Shirley’s brother, Maurice, said that the movie’s accolades were a “shame.”

Karole also blasted Green Book director Peter Farrelly, saying, “Oscars aside I think he has sealed his fate with the lies he has told, the corners he has cut. That will be the benchmark of his career.”

Green Book won best picture at the Oscars Sunday night, upsetting some social justice activists, including director Spike Lee, who claimed that “the ref made a bad call” with the award.

The dispute between the film’s producers and the family has been ongoing, and seems to revolve around what the living family members see as inaccuracies.

The film tells the story of Don Shirley, a legendary black pianist who traveled around the South during the late Jim Crow-era playing shows. Shirley was accompanied by Tony Lip Vallelonga, an Italian-American driver.

The family of Shirley claims that Vallelonga was not his friend, as is depicted in the film, but simply his employee.

“To think that this is presented as a heartwarming friendship when a man [Vallelonga] goes from being a hateful racist to tolerant of one black man! As long as you throw awards at something like that nothing will change,” Karole also told Daily Mail.

“My brother never considered Tony to be his ‘friend’; he was an employee, his chauffeur (who resented wearing a uniform and cap),” Maurice Shirley said last year.

“This is why context and nuance are so important. The fact that a successful, well-to-do Black artist would employ domestics that did NOT look like him, should not be lost in translation.”

Maurice blasted the movie further, saying, “In agreement with Malcolm X who proffered that ‘every White man in America profits directly or indirectly from his position vis-a-vis Negroes, profits from racism even though he does not practice it or believe it.’ This movie, ‘The Green Book’ is NOT about MY brother, but about money, white privilege, assumption, and Tony Lip!”

However, Deadline discovered and published audio recordings of Tony Lip telling stories about his time with Don Shirley that were actually used by the stars of the film, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, to help them with their performances.


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