The Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali has apologized to the family of Dr. Donald W. Shirley, whom he played in Green Book. The film, directed by Peter Farrelly, had come under fire previously for its so-called "magical negro" storyline, and now family members of Dr. Shirley's are denouncing the film for what they characterize as narrative falsehoods.
In a sweeping interview in Shadow And Act, Dr. Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley III, and his brother, Maurice Shirley, say the film twisted the truth of the friendship between Dr. Shirley and chauffeur Tony "Lip" Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen. Maurice and his wife Patricia tell the publication they weren’t friends at all.
"It was an employer-employee relationship," Patricia says. Edwin says Dr. Shirley never referred to Tony as a "friend," and calls the relationship "the only kind of relationship that Dr. Shirley ever had with any of the people he worked with."
"You asked what kind of relationship he had with Tony? He fired Tony!" Maurice says. "Which is consistent with the many firings he did with all of his chauffeurs over time…Tony would not open the door, he would not take any bags, he would take his chauffeur’s cap off when Donald got out of the car, and several times Donald would find him with the cap off, and confronted him. When you hear that Tony had been with him for 18 months, I can assure you, no chauffeur lasted with my brother for 18 months. Anybody who knew my brother’s temper and had any experience with any of his other chauffeurs—the maximum was the one from right here in Milwaukee from the Urban League that lasted at least two months."
Most distressingly, they say, was the part of the film that showed Dr. Shirley as being estranged from his family.
"That was very hurtful," Edwin say. "That’s just 100% wrong."
Maurice goes further, calling the film a "symphony of lies."
Once Ali learned of their distress, they say he called them to apologize.
"I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally," Maurice says. "He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense."
"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,’" adds Edwin.