12 Years a Slave’s John Ridley Talks Beef With Director Steve McQueen

John Ridley
John Ridley

12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley is aware of the drama surrounding himself and director Steve McQueen. While promoting the U.S. premiere of the Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side at SXSW this past weekend, Ridley looked to bury the hatchet.

What began over screenwriter credits and escalated to an Academy Award-speech omission has wound its way to an apology.

"I do regret it," Ridley told Entertainment Weekly about his snubbing of McQueen during his acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay.


"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. I know [when I heard my name called] I hugged my wife twice; 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 told blog Indiewire.com that there was a request for screenplay credit and that it would have been difficult for McQueen to get shared "screenplay by" credit because the original story was actually written by Solomon Northup, and Ridley was adapting the memoir. The process, he explains, would have required arbitration with the Writers Guild of America.  

"For both of us, I would have been happy to have 'story by' credit," says Ridley. "Steve never tried to get an arbitration. A lot of people assume we wrote the script together every day for four years. The reality is that Steve lives in Amsterdam and I live in Los Angeles. We met a dozen times at most. I can't say in all honesty that Steve and I had an opportunity to become super tight.

"It starts to bother me when the story becomes that we didn't give each other foot massages," he continues. "Steve was never not deferential to me, and I hope I always expressed admiration for him, the cast and crew. Steve did a lot for me. I don't know if Steve is upset. We got to have our moment. It was a beautiful moment for us." 

Ridley's real regret that evening was that after taking great pains to make sure he thanked his wife, he mentioned her by name but not by title. He thanked his script coordinator, Gayle, for her early support of his work but forgot to mention that Gayle is his wife.  


"That was my wife, you know," he told EW.

EW notes that Ridley and his wife met more than 20 years ago working on the set of Martin Lawrence’s sitcom, Martin.


"I don’t think most people got that. Wow, I screwed up. Well, I know she got it. I didn't want to be the guy when you're getting played off by the music, 'Oh, and my wife and I love her.' I wanted to start there and thank someone who believed in me from the beginning. I wanted the bulk of that 30 seconds to go to my wife, and whatever I had remaining was going to Solomon Northup, who deserves it."

Read more at Entertainment Weekly and Indiewire.com.

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