Green Book writer Nick Vallelonga addressed controversy about the movie after its Best Picture win
Oscar winner Nick Vallelonga says he had a reason for not consulting the late Dr. Don Shirley’s family while telling his story in Green Book.
The film, which tells the story of Shirley — the real-life African-American pianist, who recruited Italian-American Tony Lip (Vallelonga’s father) to be his driver as he embarked on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962 — closed out the Oscars Sunday night with its third win.
After their big moment on stage, the writers (Peter Farrelly, Brian Currie and Vallelonga) made their way to the press room where Vallelonga, who shared the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, commented on the backlash to the movie.
“If you’re discussing the Don Shirley family thing, that falls on me,” Vallelonga said, referencing how members of Shirley’s family didn’t know about the movie and didn’t approve of his portrayal. Mahershala Ali won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Shirley.
“Don Shirley himself told me not to speak to anyone,” Vallelonga continued. “He told me the story that he wanted to tell. He protected his private life and all the things about him, miraculous things about him. He was an amazing man. He told me, ‘If you’re going to tell the story, you tell it from your father, me and no one else. Don’t speak to anyone else, and that’s how you have to make it.’ Also, he told me, ‘Don’t make it until after I passed away.’ So I just kept my word to that man.”
During an interview with Shadow and Act, Dr. Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley III and brother Maurice Shirley slammed the film as a “symphony of lies.”
“It was rather jarring,” Edwin told the outlet after seeing the film’s portrayal of his uncle, who is shown as estranged from his family and black culture.
The family said Dr. Shirley was a participant in the civil rights movement and had a bond with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“That was very hurtful,” Edwin continued of seeing his uncle being presented as someone he wasn’t. “That’s just 100% wrong.”
“At that point [in 1962 when the events of the film supposedly take place], he had three living brothers with whom he was always in contact with,” Shirley’s brother Maurice told Shadow and Act.
Shirley died in 2013.
WATCH: Green Book Is a Story About Friendship Amid Racial Tensions and Socioeconomic Differences
In the press room, Vallelonga explained how he didn’t know about Shirley’s family until the movie was already done.
“I wish I could have reached out to Don’s children, I didn’t really know they existed until after we were making the film,” Vallelonga said. “We contacted his estate for music and then the filmmakers, we had a lot of discussions. I personally was not allowed to speak to his family per his wishes. I kept my word to him and that’s the reason for that. Don Shirley and my father together have an amazing story together. They changed each other.”
In January, after winning a Golden Globe for his screenplay, Vallelonga apologized and vowed to “do better” after an old tweet resurfaced recently in which he supported a debunked anti-Muslim claim spread by President Donald Trump.
The tweet in question was posted by Vallelonga in November 2015, according to screenshots. Vallelonga has since deleted his entire Twitter account amid stinging criticism.
Vallelonga had replied to Trump, then running for president, to support Trump’s false claim about Muslims in America cheering on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Vallelonga apologized for the remark.
“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,” he said. (The film’s studio, Universal, had no comment.)
The 91st Academy Awards were broadcast live from Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 24 on ABC.