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Exposed penises and anti-Muslim rhetoric: A list of ‘Green Book’ controversies

Jordan Horowitz

Let us count the ways the Golden Globe-winning film is problematic.

Upon allegations of anti-Muslim sentiment and sexual misconduct, the Golden Globe-winning film Green Book is now mired in as much controversy for the people associated with it as it is for its actual content.

On Thursday morning, the Cut revealed that Peter Farrelly, who was nominated for best director for Green Book at the Golden Globes, reportedly used to whip out his penis on previous sets. The Cut unearthed a 1998 Newsweek article in which stated he ran this “trick” some 500 times for laughs.

Through his representative, Farrelly has since responded to the Cut: “True. I was an idiot. I did this decades ago and I thought I was being funny and the truth is I’m embarrassed and it makes me cringe now. I’m deeply sorry.”

Also, last night, BuzzFeed News resurfaced a now-deleted anti-Muslim tweet by Nick Vallelonga, award-winning producer of the film. In what appears to be a response to the-then presidential candidate Donald Trump, Vallelonga wrote in November 2015, “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news.” 

Green Book, about the relationship between pianist Dr. Don Shirley and bouncer-turned-driver Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, stars Mahershala Ali, the first Muslim to win an Oscar. According to Shadow and Act, Lip is Vallelonga’s real father, and the story is depicted through his accounts.

Vallelonga’s tweet, which is no longer available, was confirmed with BuzzFeed News by his manager. A Twitter account by the username Vallelonga used was also unavailable as of Thursday morning.

But the anti-Muslim sentiment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For a film with such an explicit focus on race in the South in the 1960s, Green Book has seen many race-related controversies.

At a panel about the movie in November, Viggo Mortensen, who plays Lip, casually whipped out the n-word. “People don’t say n***** anymore,” he said, seated next to Ali. He later apologized, saying he used the n-word to highlight the fact that “many people casually used the n-word at the time in which the movie story takes place,” which, in every way, betrays his point.

Then there is the fact that execution of the plot itself drew a lot of flak upon its premiere. Dr. Shirley’s family has persistently said his character was misrepresented in the movie. A woman identifying as his niece left a message for NPR’s 1A Movie Club and said there was “no due diligence” done to “properly representing” him, Shadow and Act reported in November.  

“It’s once again a depiction of a white man’s version of a Black man’s life,” she reportedly said. “My uncle was an incredibly proud man and an incredibly accomplished man, as are the majority of people in my family. And to depict him as less than, and to depict him and take away from him and make the story about a hero of a white man for this incredibly accomplished Black man is insulting, at best.” (Dr. Shirley’s family has since said they’re at least happy for Ali’s best-supporting-actor win at the Golden Globes, though.)

If the Oscars follow in the footsteps of Golden Globes, Green Book might pick up some nominations despite its problematic nature. But as Noisey editor Shaad D’Souza notes, Green Book has won one thing so far: “PR crisis bingo” for 2019.

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque