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'Mandela' screenwriter: '12 Years a Slave' used up 'all the guilt about black people'

Screenwriter William Nicholson has blamed "12 Years a Slave" for the financial and critical failure of his Nelson Mandela biopic, "Long Walk to Freedom."
By Kate Stanton   |   June 3, 2014 at 8:05 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, June 3 (UPI) -- 12 Years a Slave, the harrowing story of a New York-born black man who's kidnapped and sold into slavery, landed on many critics' top-ten lists in 2013. It also won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, last March.

But British screenwriter William Nicholson has said that all that success directly contributed to the failure of his own film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Nicholson, who wrote the Mandela biopic starring Idris Elba, told an audience at the Hay Festival in Wales on Friday that he was "incredibly proud" of the film.

"Unfortunately it didn't get the kind of acclaim that I wanted. It didn't get Oscars," Nicholson said, because 12 Years a Slave "sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available."

"[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," he added.

Long Walk to Freedom never recouped its budget at the box office, and critical reviews were mixed. Analysts have attributed the disappointment to a crowded year of heavyweight films to an uncomplicated take on Mandela's already well-known life story.

Nicholson, however, also laid blame with Mandela's death on December 5, the same night as the Long Walk to Freedom premiere in London, and the civil rights hero's "boring" rhetoric.

"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.

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