With a slew of Golden Globes under its belt after Sunday night’s ceremony, Green Book seemed to many a feel-good story about battling racism and overcoming differences. The film, which stars Mahershali Ali as a black pianist who befriends an Italian-American bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) as he escorts him through the Deep South in 1962, is supposedly the true story of Dr. Don Shirley and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga — whose son, Nick Vallelonga, wrote and produced the film. “Every single event in this movie actually happened,” writer and producer Brian Currie told The Hollywood Reporter. “Everything was real. I’ve known Tony Lip for 25 years. I’ve heard the stories. They’re all true. This is a true story.”
It turns out that that contention is blatantly false. But the tenuous historical basis of the film may be the least of its controversy. On Wednesday, Vallelonga came under fire after a 2015 tweet resurfaced in which he agreed with Trump’s claim that he saw “Muslims in Jersey City cheering” after the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11. Around the same time, the Cut unearthed a 1998 Newsweek story about Peter Farrelly, Green Book‘s director, describing his habit of showing his penis on set. For some, the douchebaggery of the men behind Green Book has only elucidated the problems at the film’s core, with its erasure of black history in the name of a feel-good, white-friendly narrative. Here, a breakdown of the Green Book controversy, in its cursed totality.
THE FALSE NARRATIVE
When the film was released in November, Maurice Shirley, Dr. Don Shirley’s only living brother, released a statement citing several of Green Book‘s factual errors — some minor, and some very major, including Maurice’s contention that Don never considered Tony Lip a friend. (The friendship between a dignified black man and his tough-talking Italian-American bouncer is the very basis of the film.) “This movie, ‘The Green Book’ is NOT about MY brother,” Maurice wrote, “but about money, white privilege, assumption, and Tony Lip!”
THE RACIST TWEET
A tweet from 2015 in which Vallonga agreed with Trump’s claim that he saw “Muslims in Jersey City cheering” after the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11 has placed him at the center of the Green Book controversy. Mahershala Ali, the star of the film and the recipient of the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, is a Muslim. Vallonga has since deleted his Twitter account.
This past November, while doing press before the film’s release, Viggo Mortensen deployed the N-word while taking questions next to his African American co-star. As one person recounted the moment after it happened: “It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever witnessed.” Mortensen, for his part, apologized vigorously for using the slur, claiming he intended to “speak strongly against racism.”
THE PENIS “JOKE”
The cherry on top of an already incredibly unappetizing sundae: a 1998 Newsweek story on Farrelly described his habit of flashing his penis to Cameron Diaz and others on the set of his film There’s Something About Mary. He has since admitted to the “joke,” and apologized.
THE WHITE SAVIOR COMPLEX
But wait, there’s more. When The Hollywood Reporter asked Vallonga whether the film has a “white savior” complex, he said, “The only savior I know is Jesus.” Farrelly, meanwhile, seems to be more than happy to be coming to the rescue, but he’s shocked that no one can understand his good intent. “Black people have gotten their fucking asses kicked in this country for centuries,” he told THR. “They see a guy like me come along and they don’t know what’s in my heart.”