Turns Out the Rift Between the Writer and Director of ’12 Years a Slave’ Is for Real — Here’s What’s Behind the Friction Surrounding This Year’s Best Picture Winner

March 4, 2014  •  Post A Comment

It turns out it wasn’t your imagination if you thought you sensed a little tension between "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. Both men picked up trophies — Ridley for best adapted screenplay and McQueen as one of the producers of the Best Picture winner — and as we reported previously, they each failed to thank the other in their acceptance speeches.

Additionally, McQueen was caught on camera appearing to be unenthusiastic as he "slow-clapped" while Ridley made his way to the stage for his speech.

Others noticed the friction as well. TheWrap.com noted that Ridley "won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay on Sunday and did not thank the director in his acceptance speech, striding past him on his way to the podium but pausing to hug director David O. Russell. Some observers interpreted McQueen’s unsmiling applause as half-hearted."

The report adds: "McQueen later took the microphone at the end of the evening when ’12 Years a Slave’ won Best Picture, and made no mention of the writer. While McQueen lost the Best Director award to Alfonso Cuaron (‘Gravity’), he was one of five producers to win Best Picture for ‘Slave’ along with Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Anthony Katagas."

TheWrap dug into the story and unearthed the source of the conflict between McQueen and Ridley. Long before Oscars night, the two men were "embroiled in a bitter feud regarding credit for the film’s Oscar-winning screenplay, a fight they kept quiet for the good of the campaign before it came to a head Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre," TheWrap reports. "Ridley turned down McQueen’s request for shared screenplay credit, TheWrap has learned."

The story adds: "Apparently, the bad blood between McQueen and Ridley has persisted for some time. McQueen has paid respect to Ridley’s contribution in interviews, though he has never been effusive in his praise, not that McQueen often is (outside of Michael Fassbender). An individual familiar with the frosty situation tells TheWrap that McQueen has iced Ridley out to the point of rudeness — he barred people from speaking to Ridley and insisted that the writer be seated at separate tables at awards shows late in the season, including the BAFTAs."

Speaking of the BAFTAs — the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards — it gets worse. "That’s where McQueen berated Ridley’s wife while the writer was in the bathroom, trying to snatch up her BAFTA souvenirs and leaving her in tears, according to two insiders who passed along details of the outburst," the story reports.

“12 Years a Slave” was the big winner at the BAFTAs, the report notes, "and McQueen failed to thank Ridley during his acceptance speech. That was no oversight, since McQueen read his prepared speech off a piece of paper. Additionally, at the Golden Globes, McQueen didn’t thank Ridley until another producer whispered in his ear and reminded him to pay his respects, if only to prevent the media from speculating about the growing rift."

TheWrap article goes into more of the backstory, reporting: "McQueen tapped Ridley to work on a separate slavery-themed project that eventually led to ’12 Years a Slave’ after McQueen’s wife discovered the book, which Ridley subsequently agreed to adapt on spec. McQueen had a hand in shaping the script that Ridley turned in, but when he asked the writer for shared credit — not uncommon in Hollywood — Ridley politely declined, an individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.

"McQueen was nonplussed and appealed to Fox Searchlight, which ultimately sided with Ridley. Brad Pitt, who produced ‘Slave’ and plays a small role in the film, was even forced to step in at one point and mediate."

The report notes that McQueen was able to keep his anger to a simmer for the well-being of the movie — at least until Oscars night.

"McQueen begrudgingly agreed to hold his tongue for the sake of the movie," the story notes. "He, Ridley, Pitt and Fox Searchlight executives all knew what was at stake — and how easily a Best Picture win could slip through their fingers if public discord leaked to the media."

The strategy paid off. While McQueen lost out for Best Director, "12 Years a Slave" came away with three Oscars, including Best Picture.

Steve McQueen-Director.jpgSteve McQueen

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