The purpoted beef between director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley aside, most of the controversy surrounding the Best Picture-winning “12 Years A Slave” has centered on audience’s reactions to the film, both of Armond White and uneasy white Academy voters. Here we are, three months removed from the film’s Oscar win and another dissenter has spoken out the film’s injustices.
At the Hay Festival in Wales over the weekend WillIam Nicholson, the screenwriter for “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” – the Nelson Mandela biopic that starred Idris Elba and boasted a weepy U2 song – bravely stood up and blamed his film’s failure (both its mixed critical reception and its paltry stateside grosses) on the U.S. audiences being “so exhausted feeling guilty about slavery that I don’t think there was much left over to be nice about our film.” In case that statement was too subtle for you, Nicholson spelt it out more bluntly, saying McQueen’s Oscar-winning film “sucked up all the guilt about black people.” Yikes.
As most people who say stupid and insensitive things do, Nicholson dug himself a deeper hole by seemingly slamming – or outright denying – the late Mandela’s charisma and public presence by saying this: “I know it sounds outrageous to say a thing like that, but when he came out of prison he made a speech and, God, you feel asleep.” That’s right, the man who was tapped to write the Mandela biopic found him boring and also thinks that some of the blame of the biopic’s failure can also be laid at the feet of Mandela himself, saying “Suddenly the word came through that he died. We were deluged with Mandela stuff and after a week we all thought, please, take it away, we’ve heard enough about Mandela.”
It’s a shame that a film directed by one of the greatest emerging talents in cinema – ’12 Years’ is only McQueen’s third feature-length film – overshadowed the new film from the director of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” but it’s an even greater shame that no one has quite made a great film on the very great and inspring Mandela. Maybe Ridley can show Nicholson how a screenwriter truly engaged and respectful of his subject can create great work that doesn’t need to hide behind flimsy excuses. [The Independent via Defamer]