“Green Book” – not our story; his-story, their fiction


“Green Book” – Not Our Story; His-Story, Their Fiction

Hollywood does not hesitate to totally fictionalize, diminish and malign a Black historical figure, Dr Don Shirley, for its own white supremacist purposes.

“The film weaves a totally false narrative about Dr. Shirley and his relationship with Lip.”

The greatest struggle of any oppressed group in a racist society is the struggle to reclaim collective memory and identity. At the level of culture, racism seeks to deny people of African, American Indian, Asian and Latino descent their own voices, histories and traditions. From the vantage-point of racism, black people have no story worth telling; that the master narrative woven into the national hierarchy of white prejudice, privilege and power represents the only legitimate experience worth knowing.” — Dr. Manning Marable, “Escaping From Blackness: Racial Identity and Public Policy,” September 2000

Dr. Marable also referenced Frantz Fanon’s book, Black Skin, White Masks, “…that the greatest triumph of racism is when black people lose touch with their own culture and identity, seeking to transcend their oppressed condition as the Other by becoming something they are not.” This is the false impression of Dr. Donald Shirley that one is left with given the many false narratives that are perpetuated in the film Green Book.

“Green Book” is the story of Dr. Donald Shirley, a world-renown African-American classical and jazz pianist and composer who embarks on a concert tour from New York City into the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver, Shirley hires Tony Lip, a racist Italian-American nightclub bouncer, for the job. This is just about as far as the facts in the film go.

“It plays to the prejudices of a predominantly White audience.”

The film is formulaic. It plays to the prejudices of a predominantly White audience employing the too often used tropes and worn out stereotypes about African Americans to weave a totally false narrative about Dr. Shirley and his relationship with Lip. Even though Lip is Dr. Shirley’s driver, the film portrays Lip in the traditional but false position of the white “bwana” who introduces Dr. Shirley to African American culture and who he “should be” as an African American man.

To discover who the real Dr. Shirley was, I spent an hour interviewing his youngest brother, Maurice Shirley, Sr., his sister-in-law Mrs. Patricia Shirley and his niece, Mrs. Karole L. Shirley-Kimble. In addition to the interview, I also spent several hours speaking one-on-one with Mrs. Karole L. Shirley-Kimble about her uncle and family.

“The film portrays Lip as the white ‘bwana’ who introduces Dr. Shirley to African American culture and who he ‘should be’ as an African American man.”

Here are a few of the lies told in the film that are important for the public to understand.

The film portrays Dr. Shirley as being raised by a single mother. In fact, he was one of five children born to Pastor Edwin Shirley, Sr. and his wife Mrs. Stella Shirley a school teacher. The children were Calvin, Lucille (died at birth), Edwin, Jr., Donald and Maurice. His mother passed when he was nine. The four boys were raised by their father. All four boys obtained advanced degrees; two were physicians. They all were very successful in their own right. Contrary to the film narrative, Dr. Donald Shirley remained very close to his family until his death in 2013.

His talent was recognized when he was 2 years old. His mother was his initial piano teacher and he was quickly recognized as a prodigy and provided with formal piano lessons. With a father who was an Episcopal Priest with a large congregation in Pensacola, FL, the boys were raised upper middle-class. Contrary to the film narrative, he and his mother never “panhandled” for money.

“All four boys obtained advanced degrees; two were physicians.”

Dr. Shirley did not have an issue with alcohol. The rare times he drank scotch he preferred Chivas Regal or Pinch. He did not have a bottle of Cutty Sark delivered to his room every night while on the road.

Tony Lip did not “introduce” Dr. Shirley to fried chicken, Kentucky Fried or any other kind. As a “PK” or preacher’s kid, there was plenty of “gospel bird” consumed on Sunday’s after services during his childhood.

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