The Disturbing Facts About Screenwriter John Ridley That Disappoint Me
When 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014, the victory was slightly marred by the icy theme of the night — that indicated that the two men responsible for producing such a masterful gem — were in fact embroiled in what was uncovered as a well-hidden feud.
Apparently screenwriter John Ridley wrote the screenplay that eventually earned him an Oscar, this made director Steve McQueen’s blood boil over with bitterness because in his mind, they both should’ve shared credits for curating such a masterpiece — when you figure that McQueen meticulously enhanced what Ridley submitted.
McQueen fought to get the recognition he believed he deserved, but it was a losing battle.
In the end, Fox Searchlight — the studio behind the gorgeous film and Brad Pitt, whose Plan B production company helped to catapult the project into the awards circuit — decided that Ridley was right to fight for his right to refuse the addition of a co-writer.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with John Ridley or his resume, but McQueen was definitely on my radar — thanks to films like Hunger and Shame. It was a longtime friend with impressive years in the industry — that alerted me to the burgeoning British filmmaker. She pushed me to go see Shame when it opened in the winter of 2011.
I was blown away by the intensity of the film and the performances. I also remember feeling quite gratified by the fact that McQueen chose a Black actress (Nicole Beharie) to play the woman that the main character, a White male battling the compulsions of his sex addiction — falls for in the midst of his trials and tribulations.
There is no doubt that McQueen made a conscious decision to avoid the standard playbook of casting White ingénues to play the role of the sought-after beauty who is tragically not enough to save the leading man from his imminent downfall.
But, this isn’t about McQueen — it’s about Ridley.
Ridley, as I found out a couple of years later while working as a content producer at ABC Digital — Television — is also a formidable storyteller who doesn’t shy away from controversy in the name of perpetuating the status quo.
I was forced to watch his ABC drama — American Crime — in order to populate ABC’s blog with sneak peeks and recaps. Once I started, I couldn’t stop as I submitted to the genius of the storylines and character arcs.
This show that was conceived for careful consumption in case you choked on the bones of social awareness that were poking through each episode.
Heck! I even agreed to author the centerpiece that would accompany the explosive episode in Season 2 that got fans riled up and nostalgic as the sins of the past haunted the demise of a troubled character.
All this to say that I was damn near obsessed with the perfection of John Ridley and hoped to even run into him someday on the Burbank lot while grabbing lunch at the cafeteria.
That was until I came across a disturbing article that he wrote for Esquire back in 2006, which he disgustingly titled: The Manifesto of Ascendancy For The Modern American Nigger.
Fact: It took me two days to read this in its entirety and when I finished— I was disgusted and bewildered. I won’t bother to dissect the essay but I will state that it is everything that you would hope a Black man of higher standing would never, ever say out loud — much less publish for the world to see. Ridley bashes lower class Blacks for their laziness and buffoonery and blames them for being poor and useless — while extolling The New Black America — comprised of Black people that organically gravitate towards success without being seduced by the overblown theme of racism.
Fact: Ridley is currently doing press for his latest offering — Guerrilla — a British mini-series that is scheduled to air on Showtime in the near future. The series supposedly captures the racial turbulence in Britain, which inevitably ushered the British Black Power movement of the 70’s.
Heartthrob Idris Elba is amongst the cast and also serves as producer.
Fact: Recently, Ridley and his cast members held a screening in London — to discuss the film and naturally accommodate a Q&A session. Like most, I peeped the trailer when it dropped and was stunned by what I saw.
In my mind, I had assumed that the main characters would be Black. I envisioned a Black couple tirelessly navigating the terrain of a brutal climate while relying on their adherence to each other for survival.
Fact: I was basically dancing to the strings of La La Land according to a Black creative who always forgets to don a life vest to combat choppy waters ahead. I fell into the deep of the ocean when I realized that Indian actress Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame was cast in the lead role opposite a Black British actor — Babou Ceesay.
Needless to say, the Q&A portion of the festivities hit a snag as reporters rightfully questioned Ridley about his decision to use Pinto as opposed to a Black actress — and furthermore why he was comfortable with the idea of almost erasing the presence of Black women in a narrative that was supposed to propel the exact opposite.
Fact: Tears people! Tears! Ridley tearfully made his case from a personal perspective. Based on his testimony — he was motivated by his Asian wife who he described as an “activist’ and a “fighter.” He needed to tell this story in the context of the ongoing battle they both wage due to their interracial status. Also, the actress in the middle of the shit decided that she needed to be coddled from the maddening crowd. So, she cried too.
Fact: I am no longer a fan of John Ridley.
As #OscarSoWhite continues to serve as the mirror of truth in an industry that mostly serves White people and then hands out the leftovers to talents of color — it is appalling that Black men in positions of power can stoically ignore the prime opportunity to give Black actresses the exposure they deserve — by settling for safer options that will guarantee marketability and endurance.
Ridley’s reasons for his casting choice and his refusal to make Black women a dominant force in his latest endeavor is breathtakingly consistent with the callous rhetoric he dispelled years ago in that trashy article he wrote — without shame.
When Black women curse out men like Tyrese, French Montana or a screenwriter who woefully refused to use a Black woman as his lead in a film that centers around Black resistance — it’s not because we are troublemakers who love to start shit — because we are angry and like to bitch for fun.
It’s because we are women. And that’s how we roll. Period.