“A Stand-Up Guy…” and The Green Book

Image result for the green book jim crow

My brother, who is one year and 2 months younger than I am, use to get into all types of mischief when we were growing up. From destroying items in our mother’s meager abode to being followed home by adults because he used some explosive curse words when joking; he was the cause of many of our whippings from our mother. I say we because, even though my brother was mainly the culprit, we never told on each other. That was the unwritten rule growing up. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until we were much older that we let our mother in on some of the shenanigans that were perpetrated by us in our youth. Of course, we are all successful now and have hopefully made our parents proud and give all recognition to them for what we have accomplished; and perhaps even my brother has atoned for the those he joked out growing up. To be honest I think that even to this day; even those individuals believe us to be some “stand up” guys.

This weekend, and I mean all this weekend, coverage of The Academy Awards (The Oscars) were shown on several media outlets. And while I did not watch any of the festivities or the award show, I did get a chance to see the many talented actors who won in their perspective categories from news and internet reports a few hours ago. One such talented actor who always catches my eye, and who is one of my childhood crushes, is the talented and drop-dead beautiful Regina King. King took home the Best Supporting Actress for her role in Beale Street. Unfortunately, that is about as far as I got into checking out the winners because of my intrigue into a certain movie and what the media called the “controversy” surrounding it. The movie Greenbook pretty much sweep up many of the most prestigious awards including Best Male Actor, Best Supporting Male Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and the most controversial The Best Movie Award. While I have a bit of contention with the last two awards; it is only the last one which I will give my take on. Oh, but I think I may state my position on the Best Original Screenplay on a later post.

Screenwriter and film producer Nick Vallelonga , when asked why Dr. Don Shirley’s name wasn’t mentioned in any of the thank you acceptance speeches, responded by saying “you get nervous up there…we thanked Mahershala Ali…” The producer went on to address the controversy surrounding  Dr. Shirley’s family not being apart of The Greenbook project. Vallelonga claims that Dr. Shirley told him not to contact any of his family about the movie and not to make the film until after his death. Perhaps that is true…perhaps. However, it’s his statement about being a “stand-up” guy that draws my ire. Vallelonga states “I was personally not allowed to speak to his family per Don Shirley. I’m an Italian from New York, they call that a standup guy. I kept my word to the man, and that’s the reason for that.” Again perhaps that is true…perhaps. But see this is when better judgement, knowing history, and human decency comes into play.

There has always been a history of shadiness and outright thievery when it comes to the music industry; specifically, between the artist and those who run the label. Perhaps no other time was as horrendous as when the use of a “greenbook” was not a cinematic venture but a useful tool for Black Americans who were traveling through the treacherous south in order to find lodging as well places to eat where they would not be turned away because of the color of their skin color. Many entertainers from both the south and north used this book despite their celebrity status. Even though these entertainers were in many ways relieving the oppressed Black Americans living in the southern states from the day to day struggle of being deemed second class citizens; in the south they themselves were not immune to the same treatment. As cruel as the south was to these entertainers; those responsible for handling their careers and finances in the north were as equally and in many cases much more savage to the entertainers.

Many of these entertainers were swindled out of their publishing and royalties by record labels who signed these great entertainers with a few bucks and promises of more to  come; however with no intentions to make good on the promises the labels and managers got rich while many of the entertainers died penniless despite the success of their songs. With little to no recourse, many of these enterainters’ family members have only been able to watch as others make millions through royalties from the success of their love ones, while they are only left with memories, songs, or music sheets.

Thus, the ire I have with the use of the term “stand-up guy”  by Nick Vallelonga. I understand keeping the word of Dr. Shirley, but your version of The Greenbook doesn’t exist without him; which leads me to wonder how is it even conceivable that through nervousness any of you forget to mention him. A standup guy wouldn’t have ever allowed that to happen. And if it were me…and that hat is if it were me; if I know for a fact that I have told the story of an individual and I was prosperous from that individuals’ story,  I would definitely make sure that the individual’s family shares in the success. Money, public recognition, or perhaps just an acknowledgment of the deceased or acknowledgement to the deceased family members would definitely be a part of my agenda.Again, I would definitely do that if it were me. But then again, that’s what “stand up guys” do.

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