12 Years a Slave reigned triumphant Sunday night, winning three Academy Awards including Best Picture, but reports have started to sound off on a rift between director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley. Behind-the-scenes drama is commonplace in Hollywood, and a great many productions throughout history have well-documented clashes amongst filmmakers, but this one is notable in the sure fact that it remained mostly hidden throughout this very long awards season. The issue this time may stem from credit, The Wrap is reporting, an idea corroborated by Deadline’s Nikki Finke.
My sources attributing John Ridley-Steve McQueen cold shoulder at Oscars tonight to dispute over screenplay credit.
— Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) March 3, 2014
Ridley was brought on to adapt the script for 12 Years a Slave on spec, meaning that he was not guaranteed pay for his work until the project actually went to production, after McQueen’s wife led the filmmaker to the Solomon Northup autobiography. McQueen reportedly played a hand in re-working and fine tuning the screenplay but when asked for shared credit on the finished screenplay, Ridley demurred, and thus a feud may have started. It’s not all that uncommon for screenplay credits to be disputed, even on ones that eventually find themselves into the awards race. A few years a back Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner were at odds over the script of the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air (both received credit as co-writers.) In this case, distributor Fox Searchlight sided with Ridley, meaning that McQueen had no writing credit on the picture.
While there was little talk of a feud on the awards circuit, there have been reported blips along the road. At the BAFTA ceremony, where 12 Years a Slave won the top prize, reportedly McQueen berated and insulted Ridley’s wife over BAFTA souvenirs to the point she was brought to tears, and on the Oscar telecast itself, neither Ridley (who took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay) nor McQueen (an Oscar winner as one of the films producers) thanked the other. An online gif has even gone viral since of McQueen’s seemingly half-hearted applause as Ridley took the stage. Other instances have alleged that McQueen insisted on Ridley to sit at different tables at certain functions and barred certain parties from addressing the writer. Curiously, this isn’t the first time Ridley has been embroiled in a similar set of circumstances – he wrote the original screenplay for the 1999 film Three Kings on spec, but only received a ‘story by’ credit as director David O. Russell heavily rewrote it for production.
Reportedly, Brad Pitt (another of 12 Years‘ producers) had to play mediator at one point to keep a pleasant face about them as the awards season continued – the measure worked as both in the end earned statues. As of this time, representatives on either camp haven’t publicly commented on the rift, though a rep for Ridley mentioned that the writer has previously thanked McQueen on prior occasions.