Green Book, the story of the friendship between Tony Lip and Don Shirley, emerged as a surprise awards contender after capturing the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival despite poor critical reviews heading into the festival competition. Directed by screwball comedy director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) from a script written by Tony Lip’s son, many expected the film to be an uneven conglomeration of its disparate parts. While the film appears to have come together nicely, the divergence has emerged in how accurate the film actually is. The film bills itself as “inspired by a true friendship,” but the families of the two protagonists disagree profusely about its veracity, according to Screen Rant.
Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Lip, is one of the three credited screenwriters for the film. He contends that the events in the film are extremely accurate. While there is some artistic license taken in places, as is customary with almost every historical drama, the production team sought to portray the events and characters as truthfully as possible. Vallelonga tape-recorded his father’s accounts of the legendary tour with Shirley, and used interviews with Shirley to focus the screenplay on first-person primary source documents. Some of the dialogue in the film, including Shirley’s monologue about pianists keeping a whiskey glass on their piano, is taken straight from those sources. Vallelonga also sought to recreate Shirley’s desire to illustrate the “black experience” in his work, by portraying the trip as more than just a concert tour.
I see #GreenBook is the new “let’s boycott this film.” After seeing this last night I can firmly say missing this is likely a mistake. The film has a lot to say about the times, our perception of other communities, and monolithic views of said people. pic.twitter.com/6HGhrHThBG
— BlackOnBlackCinema (@BlackonCinema) November 20, 2018
However, members of the Shirley family, including his brother Maurice, have come forward since the film’s release to accuse it as being “full of lies.” The film portrays Shirley as being estranged from his family, which Shirley’s relatives deny was the case. Another important component of Shirley’s portrayal in the film is that he felt ostracized by the black community, which members of the Shirley family also dispute. In one scene, Don Shirley tells Lip that he has never eaten fried chicken, but Maurice Shirley contends that his brother “definitely” ate that type of food long before he ever met Tony Lip.
Unfortunately, neither of the protagonists can speak for themselves, as both Tony Lip and Don Shirley passed away in 2013. Sometimes truth is a matter of perspective, as NBC News‘ Jenni Miller noted that it is “a movie about racism, made by white people for white people.” However, audiences continue to respond positively to the film, despite whatever flaws it may have, and Universal Pictures has launched an awards campaign in the hopes of bringing home a Best Picture Oscar in February.