BY PETER SBLENDORIO
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/TNS
The controversial “Green Book” took home the gold at the Academy Awards, much to the dismay of many in the industry, including Spike Lee who almost stormed out in disgust when the Best Picture was announced.
The biographical drama about African-American pianist Don Shirley touring the Deep South with a White security guard during the 1960s won the top prize at the Feb. 24 award show at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Mahershala Ali also won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the movie.
Slammed by family
“Green Book” — which starred Ali as Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as bouncer Tony Lip — garnered considerable backlash around the time of its release, with Shirley’s family slamming the film as a misrepresentation of the musician’s story.
“We made this film with love, and we made it with tenderness and we made it with respect,” producer Jim Burke said during his acceptance speech Sunday.
Burke then addressed the offscreen drama to reporters backstage at the award show.
“It was discouraging, but we always went back to the film,” Burke said. “When we had a bad day, we popped in the movie and we were reminded that we were all really proud of this film.”
Lip’s son Nick Vallelonga, who co-wrote the film, took the blame for the criticism made by Shirley’s family.
“Don Shirley himself told me to not speak to anyone,” Vallelonga said backstage. “He told me the story that he wanted to tell and he protected his private life and all the other 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. That’s how you have to make it. And also, don’t make it till after I pass away. I kept my word to that man.”
Shirley passed away in 2013.
Vallelonga said he wished he’d reached out to Shirley’s family, but “didn’t know they really existed” until after they’d started making the movie.
The harshest criticism came from filmmaker Lee — whose movie “BlacKkKlansman” was nominated for Best Picture — who was seen angrily walking toward the back of the theater.
“I thought I was courtside at The Garden and the ref made a bad call,” Lee told reporters after the show, referring to Madison Square Garden, the home of his beloved New York Knicks.
In another controversy surrounding the film before release, Mortensen said the N-word during a Q&A in an effort to make a point about how casually the word was used during the era the film is set in. The actor apologized for saying the word afterward.
The film’s title refers to “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guide of venues that were safe for African-American travelers to visit and stay at to avoid discrimination. It was published annually between 1936 and 1966.
“Green Book” won in a field that also included the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the critically acclaimed “Roma” and the first superhero movie ever nominated in the category, “Black Panther.”