By Logan McRay
“Green Book” just won three Golden Globe awards and appears to be slated for more accolades to come. The movie is “based on the true story” of African American musician Don Shirley, who toured the South in during the Civil Rights-era. He was driven by “bigoted” mobster Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, who comes to understand the horrors of racism and redeem himself (in neo-liberal terms). The movie was directed by Peter Farrelly, who has made a living ridiculing the mentally handicapped (There’s Something About Mary), obese women (Shallow Hal), ebonics (Me, Myself & Irene) and bowlcuts (Dumb and Dumber). Well, it appears Farrelly has taken some liberties with the story of Shirley, according to the late musician’s family.
As the great niece of Don Shirley, Yvonne Shirley, told Hollywood Reporter:
"For my family, this is not nor has it ever been a debate. It's just about the truth. We know the truth of our loved one." She adds of the filmmakers, "They decided to make Don Shirley estranged from his black family, though that was not true. They decided to make him absurdly disconnected from black community and culture, thought that was not true. They decided to depict him as having spent his formative years in Europe, though he spent them in the Deep South where he was born and raised. They decided to create a story of a white man's redemption and self-realization using an extraordinary black life and a history of black oppression in this country as their backdrop. Many viewers are simply tired of that devaluing narrative."
So, to make a movie in which people of color redeem White racists, even the redeemers must be divorced from any racial context. The protagonist Shirley cannot have views shaped by his upbringing, culture and family. Why deny that Shirley’s story is as much defined by his “Blackness” as Lip’s “Whiteness?” In an effort to create a “redemption story” for himself, Farrelly has incorporated tropes that Ray Charles could spot a mile away.