On February 24th, Hollywood A-listers gathered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 2019 Oscars. Like any Academy Awards ceremony, the show was filled with huge triumphs and major disappointments. But for many, the biggest controversy of the night was the Best Picture winner, Green Book—and especially director Peter Farrelly’s acceptance speech.
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, Green Book stars Mahershala Ali as jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s real-life son, co-wrote the screenplay, which centers on the two main characters’ concert tour through the South in the 1960s. The movie gets its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was a guide by Victor Hugo Green that helped black motorists travel safely during the height of segregation. However, during Farrelly’s acceptance speech, he failed to even acknowledge Green—the man who made the premise of his movie possible. He also did not mention Shirley or his family. He did, however, thank Mortensen.
Suffice it to say, many were not happy with Farrelly’s major omission.
Others felt that Ali—who won Best Supporting Actor for portraying Shirley—also got short shrift.
Of course, Green Book was controversial even before it won Best Picture. As THR notes, both Shirley and Tony died in 2013, but the pianist’s family members objected to the film numerous times, claiming that it’s not an accurate portrayal. Shirley’s great-niece, Yvonne Shirley, told THR that the movie falsely depicts her great-uncle as “estranged from his black family” and “absurdly disconnected from black community and culture.” Vallelonga, the film’s screenwriter, has also come under fire for failing to consult with the Shirley family. But according to Vanity Fair, he told reporters at the Oscars that Shirley told him: “Don’t speak to anyone else.”
Many have also called Green Book a “white savior” movie. After it won, critics compared it to Crash, which some consider one of the worst movies to ever win the award.
It’s disappointing—if not outright offensive—that Green and Shirley didn’t get the credit they deserved. Hopefully, the Academy is listening to some of this backlash and taking notes for future awards.