At surface level, Green Book had a tremendous evening at the Golden Globes last weekend. The film, which based on the true story of queer Black classical musician (played by Mahershala Ali) and his Italian-American chauffeur (Viggo Mortensen), won three major awards at the Globes: Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Ali), and Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical.
But how victorious is this victory? During the glitzy ceremony, the cloud of controversy surrounding Green Book briefly dissipated. There are a few facets to the movie's criticism, but most pressing is the fact that Don Shirley's family calls the movie as a "symphony of lies" and condemns its rosy portrayal of Shirley and Vallelonga's relationship. The family insists that Shirley and Vallelonga had an "employer-employee" relationship, not a friendship.
After the Golden Globes ceremony, the movie's stars were forced to contend with the film's reputation. Backstage, Ali was asked to respond to Shirley's family's allegations. “I will say that my job is always the same, and I have to look at what I’m responsible for doing and all the prayers, the energy, the time, the work, I am not one who is going to necessarily throw all that away over things I had no control over and had nothing to do with,” he said.
“I respect the family, I respect Dr. Shirley and his family, and I wish them well. I have a job to do, and I have to continue to do my job as I move on to my next project and treat everyone I work with respect. In this case I didn’t know they were around. I made contact, and I’ve spoken to the studio. I have to move on at this point.”
Technically, Ali has been addressing this controversy for some time now. After the Shirley family came forward with their complaints, Ali called Shirley's brother, Maurice, personally. Recounting the call to Shadow and Act, Shirley's nephew Edwin said, "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.’” Like Ali mentioned, the Shirley family was not consulted during the film.
After the Golden Globes, Ali's co-star, Octavia Spencer, was also asked to speak about the Shirley family. Spencer is also the movie's executive producer. Unlike Ali, who answered head-on, Spencer pivoted the question back to what the movie meant to her.
"I'm a little troubled that answering that question could cause them any more distress. What I'd like to say in lieu of anything directed to the Shirley family is what it meant to me," Spencer deflected. "I have been a part of four films from this era, and it was the firs time I saw a person of color with agency. This is a guy whose story needs to be out there."
The Shirley family's discomfort with Green Book, along with criticism about the movie's portrayal of Don Shirley as a secondary figure in Vallelonga's story, will continue to cling on Green Book's coverage. But the criticism likely won't impede the movie's path to award show glory. If the Golden Globes victory sweep is anything to go by, Green Book could still win big at the Academy Awards.