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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mahershala Ali responds to the Shirley family’s claim that Green Book is a “symphony of lies”

Illustration for article titled Mahershala Ali responds to the Shirley family’s claim that Green Book is a “symphony of lies”
Photo: Michael Tran (Getty Images)

Peter Farrelly’s Green Book emerged as a big winner at last night’s Golden Globes, with the film taking top honors and star Mahershala Ali scoring a statue for his turn as musician Don Shirley. Even so, controversy continues to cloud the film, namely in the well-documented remarks made by Dr. Shirley’s immediate family, who, in an interview with Shadow And Act last year, called the movie a “symphony of lies,” adding that nobody in the family was “consulted or even contacted at any point during the writing or production of this film.”


On Sunday night, Ali addressed the controversy backstage at the Globes. “I will say this,” he said, “My job is always the same: I have to look at what I am doing and be responsible for it.” After saying that he wouldn’t want to “throw away” everyone’s work on the film, he added that he respects the family and Shirley. “I spoke to the studio and the family, and at the end of the day you wish everyone was happy and you don’t want to offend anyone in any capacity.”

Not only did the family dispute the film’s portrayal of Dr. Shirley being estranged from them, but they also criticized the film’s raison d’être. “It was an employer-employee relationship,” Patricia Shirley, Dr. Shirley’s sister-in-law, said of the pianist and his driver, Tony Lip, whose transformational friendship with Dr. Shirley forms the spine of the film. Never once, she says, did Dr. Shirley ever refer to Tony as a “friend.”

While this is Ali’s first public response to the backlash, the Shadow And Act piece does note that he reached out to the family after they made critical statements to NPR in November. “I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally,” said Edwin Shirley, Don’s older brother. “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.’”

Ali’s responses are bit more graceful than those of Farrelly and co-star Viggo Mortensen. “When we found out about the family, we tried to embrace them,” Farrelly told Variety. “And they’re not having it right now, and it’s very disappointing.”

Mortensen, who, in November, apologized for using the N-word during a panel, responded to the claims by praising writer Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Lip, for showing “admirable restraint in the face of some accusations and some claims—including from a couple of family members—that have been unjustified, uncorroborated, and basically unfair, that have been countered by other people who knew Doc Shirley well.”

“Dr. Shirley was a brilliant man,” Ali said during his acceptance speech on Sunday night. “I just want to thank him for his passion, his virtuosity, and the dignity that he carried himself with that inspired me each and every day.”


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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.