Initially, Sunday night at the Oscars was a joyous and historic day for black Hollywood. 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and became the first film directed by a black man and starring a predominately black cast to win. Actress Lupita Nyong’o won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Patsey. As a scribe, my heart was especially filled with joy when writer John Ridley was called to the stage winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that his voice quivered. He could barely hold himself together. But unbeknownst to me, there was a conspiracy theory being meticulously crafted behind the scenes.
The revelation began within hours of the celebratory afterglow of the film’s success internationally television success. The first evidence presented to me came as a GIF in which John Ridley acknowledged the individual sitting next to director Steve McQueen, but not McQueen. He gave a hug to director David O. Russell, who Ridley reportedly had beef with in the past over writing credits. But he never gave love to McQueen. Initially, this didn’t strike me as odd. I didn’t think it was newsworthy.
But then another video showing a rather stoic looking Ridley, standing way in the back of the 12 Years a Slave cast and crew. They stood on stage cheering along with Steve McQueen jumping and Brad Pitt smiling as they all accepted the Oscar for Best Picture. McQueen pulled out a written thank you speech mentioning everyone but Ridley. And this wasn’t the first forgotten time. He failed to thank Ridley at the BAFTAs. And almost forgot at the Golden Globes until reminded by a producer who whispered in his ear.
An hour earlier, when Ridley won his Oscar, he thanked everyone who worked on the film except McQueen. Perhaps it was a mistake? After all, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re up at the podium. But then YouTube videos surfaced of McQueen giving a smile-less clap when Ridley won for Best Adapted Screenplay. He seemed to applaud almost mockingly.
Rumor filled news reports flooded the Internet, quoting anonymous sources “close” to the situation. Nothing says “It’s quite possible that I pulled this out of my a**”" like rumors and a proliferation of anonymous sources - two of my absolute least favorite tools of journalism.
But according to The Wrap, known for their breaking Hollywood news, screenings, and Q&A’s featuring A-list directors; the rift stems from McQueen helping Ridley tweak the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave. In the end, Ridley didn’t want to share writing credit. McQueen is said to have voiced his issue with Fox Searchlight, but the studio sided with Ridley. Apparently, things got so bad that Brad Pitt had to step in as a mediator and all parties agreed to keep things quiet during the carefully marketed and promoted, politically correct road to Oscar stardom. But the show is over, trophies are on mantles, and now the truth seems apparent.
For his part, Ridley was spotted at a post-Oscar party and was asked of any sore feelings between the two. “Listen, without Steve McQueen I wouldn’t have this Oscar tonight,” he told the New York Post at Vanity Fair’s party. “I owe a lot to the genius of Steve McQueen, and I am forever grateful to have had the chance to work with him.”
As much as I would like to simply take this quote for face value, logic tells me that I should not. It's Hollywood. People will tell you everything is all good even as they politely sabotage you, especially when they speak to press. Nothing is ever as it seems.
It’s a damn shame that these two grown ass men could not put their egos aside in celebration of this magnificent work. When I first heard about the alleged rift I didn't want to believe it. I simply did not want to fathom that a pissing match between these two gentlemen was occurring in the midst of the most historic Academy Awards in years. To me, it was indicative of black men in the greater society and how we often clash. Can be it be my fate or human design that brothas in power are continually at one another's throats? That is not to say that men from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds don't clash amid conflicts of interests. But there is an enduring stereotype that says black men cannot get along and will actually sabotage their own interests so that a counterpart does not get any shine.
I hope this McQueen/Ridley drama isn't one of those circumstances. Because when I heard that Brad Pitt had to step in to mediate the match I almost lost my lunch. As "down" as Pitt is, the allegation that a white dude had to "tame" two idealistic combatants of color is somewhat disheartening. White savior to the rescue again. Aside from the fact that the greatness witnessed in Oscar history with 12 Years a Slave winning best picture has been tainted and tarnished because of this disheartening crap. And why? Egos. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not.