‘Mandela’ Screenwriter Says ’12 Years A Slave’ ‘Sucked Up All The Guilt About Black People’

Asking filmmakers why their films didn’t do better or get more awards season consideration, you usually get a strange combination of diplomatic and embittered. Some element of phony “just happy to be here” sentiment meets the occasional weird rationalization like “American audiences lack a European sensibility.” Rarely do you find someone as candid as Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom screenwriter William Nicholson, who told an audience at a British literary festival recently that his movie would’ve gotten more awards consideration if only 12 Years A Slave hadn’t “sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available.”

Now I kind of wish sucking up guilt about black people was a superpower. Like some X-Man based on the Oscars.

“I think it worked superbly,” he told an audience at the Hay Festival. “I’m incredible proud of this film. Unfortunately it didn’t get the kind of acclaim that I wanted. It didn’t get Oscars.”

Nicholson, who is believed to have spent 15 years working on the Mandela script, continued: “(America) were so exhausted feeling guilty about slavery that I don’t think there was much left over to be nice about our film. So, our film didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, which was a bit heartbreaking.”

“Exhausting” is probably the most accurate description of 12 Years A Slave (even people who like it say that, which I think is funny), but you know what else sounds exhausting? A movie that prominently features a U2 song about Mandela. If you ask me, 12 Years A Slave wasn’t the problem, it was Bono. Nothing cheapens the historical significance of an event like Bono.

The writer, who worked on 2000’s Gladiator, also blamed Mandela’s death shortly before the film’s release for its lack of success.

“Mandela died as I was in the royal premiere with Will and Kate,” he said. “We were deluged with Mandela stud and after a week we all thought, please take it away, we’ve heard enough about Mandela.”

But Nicholson did not stop there, instead going on to describe the late South African leader’s speeches as “boring” and insisting that most of those used in the film were created by himself.

“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 fell asleep,” he said. [TheIndependent]

I don’t think anyone has ever so succinctly summed up my problem with the traditional biopic. “Man, the real facts of this story I chose to write about are kind of boring. I better make some stuff up.”

I’d like to party with this guy. I wonder if he just goes full-on inappropriate uncle all the time.