Green Book Writer Apologizes for Supporting Trump's Anti-Muslim Claim in 2015: 'I Will Do Better'
Green Book writer Nick Vallelonga, who last weekend won a Golden Globe for his screenplay, is apologizing and vowing 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 — which began widely circulating around mid week — was posted by Vallelonga in November 2015, according to screenshots. Vallelonga has since deleted his entire Twitter account amid stinging criticism.
“This is all just too disgusting,” La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz tweeted Wednesday with a screenshot of Vallelonga’s original post.
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.
“Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down. I saw it, as you did, possibly on local CBS news,” Vallelonga tweeted at the time. Trump was “100 percent correct,” he claimed.
In a statement to PEOPLE on Thursday, 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.)
Trump first made the claim at a campaign rally on Nov. 21, 2015, in Alabama, according to the New York Times and PolitiFact. His assertion was almost immediately debunked, though Trump continued to defend himself, the Times reported.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” Trump said at his rally, according to the paper. “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 an interview on ABC the next day, Trump doubled-down, further claiming: “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
Vallelonga tweeted back at Trump that same day. His post was first spotted on the website AwardsWatch.
‘Green Book’ Is a Story About Friendship Amid Racial Tensions and Socioeconomic Differences
In his statement to PEOPLE, Vallelonga offered his remorse specifically to the Green Book cast — including Mahershala Ali, who is Muslim — as well as to all Muslims.
As many noted online, the underlying message of Green Book stands in contrast to Vallelonga’s past comment.
The film is based on the real-life story of his father, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen), who served as the driver for pianist Don Shirley (played by Ali) during his tour in the segregated South in the 1960s. A celebration of interracial friendship, Green Book also highlights the evil of racism.
“I especially deeply apologize to the brilliant and kind Mahershala Ali, and all members of the Muslim faith, for the hurt I have caused,” Vallelonga said. “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.”
While the film’s recent wins at the Golden Globes were a boon to predictions that it will be an Academy Awards contender, other controversies have also lessened the film’s shine.
Following the show last weekend, director Peter Farrelly (a Globe winner himself) issued his own apology for flashing his penis in the ’90s in an attempt to be “funny.” His behavior made new headlines after an old interview was dug up.
“I was an idiot,” Farrelly said in his statement. “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.”
According to an interview with Shadow and Act published in December, Don Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley III was angered by his uncle’s portrayal in the film and said he felt it was inaccurate.
Both Edwin and Don Shirley’s brother Maurice Shirley received a call from Ali, according to the site.
“I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally,” said Edwin, according to Shadow and Act (also cited by the Times). “He called me and my uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense.”
Edwin continued, “What [Mahershala] said was, ‘If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.’ ”
• Reporting by ADAM CARLSON