The Wrap has a report that threatens to dampen the feel-good spirits of brotherly love of 12 Years A Slave, with unnamed sources saying a serious rift has developed between its director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley. Most who watched the Oscars began to suspect something wasn’t quite right between the two around the time that Ridley collected his award for Best Adapted Screenplay without thanking McQueen—and McQueen celebrated Ridley’s victory with the most halfhearted round of applause seen outside of a SeaWorld walrus.
According to The Wrap’s Jeff Sneider, the air stirred by McQueen’s seemingly sarcastic clapping was just the latest cold breeze to blow between the two, following months of reported feuding over shared screenplay credit. After McQueen’s wife brought the director Solomon Northup’s book, it was McQueen who tapped Ridley to write the script on spec, and—though McQueen “had a hand in shaping” the final product—Ridley turned down McQueen’s request to have his name officially listed as co-screenwriter. This reportedly led to a long, bitter feud that made for an awkward awards campaign, in which McQueen “iced Ridley out to the point of rudeness.”
This apparently included McQueen forbidding people to speak to Ridley, and demanding that they both be seated at separate tables at awards shows like the BAFTAs, where—according to two anonymous witnesses—“McQueen berated Ridley’s wife while the writer was in the bathroom, trying to snatch up her BAFTA souvenirs and leaving her in tears.” (No word on what happened to the souvenirs.)
Naturally, producers worried that this Real Housewives-worthy war of seating arrangements and silent treatments could hurt the very serious film’s very serious Oscar chances. And so, after Fox Searchlight also rejected McQueen’s appeal to get credit, Brad Pitt was reportedly forced to step in and mediate, convincing McQueen to keep quiet for the duration of the season. Instead, he communicated his disappointment in more subtle ways, neglecting to thank Ridley at the BAFTAs despite reading his prepared speech from a piece of paper, and only thanking him at the Golden Globes after “another producer whispered in his ear and reminded him to pay his respects.” And, of course, then there was this.
If this report is true, it certainly has some precedent: Ridley previously feuded with David O. Russell over Three Kings, another script he wrote on spec, but which was rewritten by Russell to the point that the WGA ruled Ridley should only have a “story by” credit. Ridley and Russell also fought in an embarrassingly public way, with Ridley saying of Russell, “This is a guy who every step of the way has tried to grab credit,” and Russell blasting Ridley’s move to block a book of his script by saying, “I think he's doing it because he's embarrassed by how little of his screenplay ended up in my movie.” That bitterness seems to have faded; as The Playlist notes, Ridley gave Russell a hug on his way to the Dolby stage Sunday night.
It remains to be seen whether Ridley and McQueen will also make a show of publicly patching things up. For now, Ridley said in a post-Oscars interview with Vanity Fair that he only left out McQueen’s name because of time and being swept up in the “emotion” of the moment, declaring, “Listen, without Steve McQueen I wouldn’t have this Oscar tonight. I owe a lot to the genius of Steve McQueen, and I am forever grateful to have had the chance to work with him.” McQueen, meanwhile, has had no comment on any of these reports.
Still, in the end both can likely take solace in knowing that they don’t have to see each other for a while, and that they both walked away with Oscars. And meanwhile, the rest of us walked away with this endlessly reusable GIF, which should outlast any of these icy feelings.