TIME movies

Mandela Scriptwriter Blames 12 Years a Slave for His Movie’s Failure

William Nicholson
British playwright, novelist and screenwriter William Nicholson at his home near Lewes, East Sussex, 13th December 2012. Eamonn McCabe--Getty Images

Screenwriter William Nicholson says that his film Mandela failed to win awards because Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave "sucked up all the guilt about black people"

Well, this is one way to spin defeat.

At a literary festival in England over the weekend, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom scriptwriter William Nicholson told the audience that his film failed to make a splash and win awards because 12 Years a Slave “sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available.” Unlike 12 Years — which earned rave reviews and took home three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay — Mandela received mixed reviews and only one Oscar nod for Best Original Song. (“Let It Go” from Frozen ultimately picked up the prize.)

Yet Nicholson — who previously co-wrote the scripts for Gladiator and Elizabeth: The Golden Age — doesn’t think Mandela‘s lukewarm reception was warranted. “I think it worked superbly,” he said of his film. But “[Americans] 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.”


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