’12 Years a Slave’ Spat: John Ridley Regrets Not Thanking Steve McQueen

John Ridley

Oscar winner for Adapted Screenplay says the moment was a blur, and notes that he praised the director profusely the day before

Less than a week ago, TheWrap first reported the details behind the rift between “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and the director of the Best Picture Oscar winner Steve McQueen.

Now, in a new interview, Ridley sought to clarify the situation. He said that he regrets not thanking McQueen when accepting the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, but that it was an omission rather than a diss.

“I do regret it,” Ridley told Entertainment Weekly. “But just 24 hours earlier at the Spirit Awards I sincerely went on and on about Steve and my work with him. You know, the guy changed my life. At the Oscars you have 30 seconds to talk and it’s like the oxygen drops out of the room.”

Ridley was in Austin, Texas, for the premiere of the Jimi Hendrix biopic “All is By My Side,” which he wrote and directed. He said the Oscar moment was very much a blur to him.

Also read: Oscars: ’12 Years a Slave’ Screenplay Rift Between Steve McQueen, John Ridley Boils Over

“I know when I heard my name called, I hugged my wife twice,” he said. “I know David O. Russell, again this person people think I have beef with, was the first guy to hug me, I know Meryl Streep reached out and touched my arm.”

Ridley didn’t mention it in this interview, but he and McQueen had been at odds during the development of the slavery saga.

The director had 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, Ridley politely declined.

Also read: ’12 Years a Slave’ Writer John Ridley Lands Drama Pilot at ABC

The disagreement forced distributor Fox Searchlight and Brad Pitt, who had small role in the film and produced, to mediate. The team behind the film kept the dispute from going public so as not to hurt the film’s awards chance, but the relationship between Ridley and McQueen was strained throughout the awards season.

Ridley blamed the media’s penchant for conflict for the perceived slight to McQueen blowing up to the extent it did, and said that “12 Years” had been drawing extra scrutiny from the time it became the Best Picture front-runner until it finally won the Oscar.

“From the jump, man, from the moment somebody said ‘Stop the year, this is the Best Picture’ the story became ‘It’s torture porn. Why are Brits doing this? This movie is only geared at liberal whites.’

“In the end, I said to somebody else ‘At the very least, we weren’t ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Nobody set up a congressional investigation. This year it’s who hugged and kissed who and who didn’t.”