Home >Industry >Media >Oscars 2019: Universal's 'Green Book' beats Netflix's 'Roma' for best picture
'Green Book' director Peter Farrelly at the Oscars on Sunday. (Reuters)
'Green Book' director Peter Farrelly at the Oscars on Sunday. (Reuters)

Oscars 2019: Universal's 'Green Book' beats Netflix's 'Roma' for best picture

  • 'Green Room' has faced criticism from some members of pianist Don Shirley’s family who said the movie inaccurately portrays his relationship with bodyguard-driver Tony Vallelonga
  • The crowd-pleasing film, however, continued to win over audiences and members of the Academy, bagging three Oscars

Los Angeles: In a Hollywood ending of sorts, the film Green Book endured an unusually high degree of controversy to bring home the Best Picture Oscar at Sunday’s Academy Awards.

The road-trip/buddy film about pianist Don Shirley and his bodyguard-driver Tony Vallelonga faced criticism from some members of Shirley’s family who said the movie inaccurately portrays their relationship. Also, revelations that director Peter Farrelly used to jokingly flash his private parts years ago, and that star Viggo Mortensen used a racial epithet at a press conference, could have killed the movie’s chances of major awards.

But the crowd-pleasing film, released by Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, continued to win over audiences and members of the Academy, who also recognized the film’s co-writers Vallelonga, Farrelly and Brian Hayes Currie for best original screenplay. Mahershala Ali won the best supporting actor award for his portrayal of Shirley.

“The whole story is about love," Farrelly, also co-producer of the film, said when accepting the Best Picture Oscar. “It’s about loving each other despite our differences and finding the truth of who we are. We’re the same people."

Farrelly is best known for lowbrow comedies such as 1998’s There’s Something About Mary" and 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.

Disputed stories

Controversy began with the release of Green Book last November, when members of Shirley’s family disputed that their relative and Vallelonga were ever that close and that a white chauffeur would have to instruct the African-American Shirley in how to eat fried chicken with his fingers, as one memorable scene depicts. Others have criticized the movie for its motif of a white man, Vallelonga, who often has to rescue Shirley from harassment.

“No one, EVER, had to teach my brother how to eat fried chicken," Maurice Shirley, the pianist’s brother, said last year, according to Black Enterprise magazine.

The win by Green Book didn’t silence the backlash. Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang called it the worst film to be named best picture since Crash won the award in 2006. Backstage after the award ceremony, Spike Lee, director of rival nominee BlacKkKlansman, said: “The ref made a bad call."

Lee shared a writing Oscar for adapted screenplay, his first Academy Award ever, for BlacKkKlansman, which is about an African-American police detective who infiltrates the klan with the help of a fellow policeman who is Jewish.

On a panel Thursday night at the Los Angeles Press Club, Nick Vallelonga, who co-produced and co-wrote the film based on the life of his father, said all of the scenes in Green Book were based on stories told to him by his dad and Shirley, both of whom are now dead. Shirley had requested that he not reach out to any members of his family, a wish Vallelonga said he honoured.

As for the fried chicken incident, “That scene happened—both my father and Dr. Shirley told me that," Vallelonga said.

Pushing buttons

“Dr. Shirley was a psychology major and he told me, ‘I used to push your father’s buttons all the time,’" Vallelonga said.

Michael Kappeyne, a former student of Shirley and executor of his estate, supported Vallelonga’s story at the Press Club event.

“To me, it’s just another example of Dr. Shirley going against the stereotypes, going against the prejudices," Kappeyne said. “He was a very complex man who showed different personas depending on the time of day and the situation he was in and the people he was hanging out with."

Vallelonga said the filmmakers left out a scene where the characters are served fried chicken at a fancy home and his father’s character prompts everyone at the dinner to eat with their fingers. The scene was cut due to space limitations, he said.

Bouncer’s tale

The film chronicles a tour through the Deep South in the early 1960s featuring Shirley, an erudite, classically trained performer, and Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx. Despite their very different backgrounds, the pair grow to appreciate each other’s strengths and develop a friendship.

“To me it’s just two human beings connecting with each other, that’s the movie I wanted to make," Nick Vallelonga said.

Vallelonga said he laboured for decades in Hollywood, acting, writing and directing films like 2005’s Choker, about a serial killer who hunts alien beings who can only survive by inhabiting other people’s bodies. At times he also worked as a bouncer and took jobs such as delivering cheese. Now he has two Oscars to put on his mantle.

“It’s much harder to write bad films than it is good ones," he joked Thursday night.

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