Just days after winning multiple Golden Globes, “Green Book” has dipped further into controversy.
The film, based on a true story, had already polarized critics over its feel-good depiction of a racist white chauffeur who befriends his black jazz pianist boss while traveling through the South in the early 1960s. Some naysayers argued that “Green Book” does a disservice to the black man, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), by mostly focusing on how his trauma betters the white man, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). Shirley’s real-life family found fault with the film’s accuracy and said that Tony’s son, Nick, co-wrote the screenplay without consulting them.
Now Nick is the Vallelonga whose racist remarks have come under fire. He deactivated his Twitter account after first deleting a November 2015 tweet that had recirculated Wednesday: “@realDonaldTrump 100% correct,” it read. “Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news.”
Trump had brought up the debunked 9/11 story at a campaign rally that month when he said, “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
In a statement shared Thursday evening with The Washington Post, Vallelonga apologized for his 2015 tweet:
“I want to apologize. I spent my life trying to bring this story of overcoming differences and finding common ground to the screen, and I am incredibly sorry to everyone associated with ‘Green Book.' I especially deeply apologize to the brilliant and kind Mahershala Ali, and all member [sic] of the Muslim faith, for the hurt I have caused. I am also sorry to my late father who changed so much from Dr. Shirley’s friendship and I promise this lesson is not lost on me. ‘Green Book’ is a story about love, acceptance and overcoming barriers, and I will do better."
Critics and industry figures alike had denounced the tweet. Several pointed out that Ali, who won a Golden Globe for portraying Shirley, is Muslim.
“Nick Vallelonga wrote Green Book. My industry just gave him a Golden Globe for writing,” tweeted film producer Jordan Horowitz, who memorably clarified that “Moonlight” had won best picture at the 2017 Oscars — the same night Ali, who appeared in that film, became the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar. Horowitz added on Twitter that Ali is “a beautiful, generous and kind man. This is all too disgusting.”
Vox critic Todd VanDerWerff wrote that Vallelonga’s tweet adds to “Green Book’s” biggest issue, which is that it “only shows one side of the story, then dares to lecture anybody who takes issue with this by, in effect, saying we’re the real racists.”
All this unfolded the same day the Cut published an article about how “Green Book” director and co-screenwriter Peter Farrelly, previously known for his raunchy comedies, used to flash his genitals at people as a joke. The article references a Newsweek story from 1998 in which Cameron Diaz mentions him doing this upon first meeting her, and an Observer article from that same year in which Farrelly himself describes his “technique.”
“I don’t like it when they laugh at my penis,” Farrelly told the Observer writer. “But I do like it when they stare.”
While the Newsweek and Observer stories treat Farrelly’s behavior lightly, the Cut notes, it might seem more “egregious” nowadays. In a statement to The Post, Farrelly said, “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.”
Universal Pictures has not returned The Post’s request for comment.
Arguably the first outcry associated with “Green Book” occurred back in November, though on a smaller scale, when star Mortensen said the n-word during a post-screening discussion. The actor had been chatting about race in America, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and contrasting how people in the 1960s used the word much more than people do now. (The film depicts white people using the racial slur.)
“Although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man,” Mortensen said in a statement the day after the discussion. “I do not use the word in private or public. I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night and will not utter it again.”
Ali accepted Mortensen’s apology in a separate statement shared with the trade outlet, but not without noting that “the history of discrimination, slavery, pain, oppression and violence that the word has come to symbolize only causes harm to members of the black community and therefore needs to be left in the past.”
This post has been updated.