The family of the late Dr. Don Shirley isn’t pleased with the film “Green Book,” and Mahershala Ali, who portrays Shirley on screen, recently called the family to apologize.
“Green Book” tells the story of Dr. Shirley, a jazz pianist of refined tastes who develops a friendship with his Italian-American chauffeur Tony Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen. In recent interviews, Shirley’s family said the film made it seem that Don was estranged from them, which they say was not the case at all.
They also scoffed at the idea that Shirley was so disconnected from certain aspects of Black culture that Vallelonga had to introduce them to the musician. As reported by Shadow and Act, Edwin Shirley III, Don’s nephew, said “Green Book” was “jarring” to watch, and Maurice Shirley, Don’s brother, called the whole thing a “symphony of lies.”
The Shirleys also told Shadow and Act they were never contacted about the film and didn’t even know about it until they saw an Instagram post from Ali. This was after Vallelonga’s son Nick tried for decades to get Don Shirley’s cooperation in making the film, but Shirley kept turning him down.
In an interview with NPR, Edwin talked about the phone call he received from Ali, and the actor admitted that he had no idea about the living family members.
“He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense,” said Edwin. “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.’”