‘12 Years A Slave’ Oscar tarnished by feud over screenplay

Director Steve McQueen omitted screenwriter from acceptance speech after he was refused co-writing credit

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The Independent Culture

The director and writer of the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave are locked in a behind-the-scenes battle over the credit for the film’s screenplay, it has been claimed.

According to The Wrap entertainment website, British filmmaker Steve McQueen requested a co-writing credit on screenwriter John Ridley’s script, which Ridley “politely declined”. They have reportedly been feuding ever since.

Fox Searchlight, which backed the film, is said to have taken Ridley’s side, while its producer Brad Pitt played peacemaker. The participants were allegedly encouraged to keep the matter under wraps so as not to threaten the film’s awards chances.

12 Years A Slave is based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a free-born black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, while one of its stars, Lupita Nyong’o, was named Best Supporting Actress. McQueen is the first black director to see his film win Best Picture, while Ridley is only the second black person to triumph in the screenplay category.

 Observers noted that as he made his way to the podium, Ridley hugged not McQueen, but David O Russell, the writer and director of another Oscar contender, American Hustle. While accepting the Best Picture prize, McQueen neglected to mention Ridley, whom he had also omitted from his acceptance speeches at the Baftas and Golden Globes.

The Wrap’s report also outlined an alleged incident at the Baftas, claiming that McQueen had asked for Ridley to be seated at a separate table during the London awards, and that according to two sources, “McQueen berated Ridley’s wife while the writer was in the bathroom, trying to snatch up her Bafta souvenirs and leaving her in tears.”

Upon receiving the Best Picture Oscar, director Steve McQueen (pictured) neglected to thank screenwriter John Ridley (Getty)

 McQueen has declined to comment publicly on the alleged feud, but Ridley denied that he had deliberately left the director out of his speech. “I had less than two minutes to thank everybody and I was so caught up in the emotion of the moment when I was onstage,” Ridley told the New York Post, saying, “Without Steve McQueen I wouldn’t have this Oscar tonight… I owe a lot to the genius of Steve McQueen, and I am forever grateful to have had the chance to work with him.”

Ridley began working with McQueen on a slavery-themed project in 2008, and the pair decided to adapt 12 Years for the screen after the director’s partner, Bianca Stigter, came across Northup’s memoir.

Screenwriter John Ridley with and his wife Gayle pose with his Oscar (Getty)