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'12 Years a Slave' screenwriter John Ridley tackles slavery, survival and America’s tragic history

Screenwriter John Ridley on set of  his film
Screenwriter John Ridley on set of his film "All Is By My Side"
Ryder Sloane

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Updated 3/3/14: For the first time, a film directed by a black filmmaker — Steve McQueen of "12 Years a Slave" — won best picture, leading the usually sedate filmmaker to jump up and down in celebration after his acceptance speech.

The film also garnered an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay, which went to screenwriter John Ridley.

The film portrays the gripping true story of a man’s fight to survive after being sold into slavery. Set before the Civil War, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man from New York. He is taken from his home and sold into slavery.

"12 Years A Slave" trailer

He struggles to stay alive at the hand of his slave owner, played by Michael Fassbender. During his twelfth year of enduring constant pain and struggles he meets a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) who will change the direction of Northup’s life.

Ridley spoke with AirTalk's Larry Mantle last fall about the process of adapting Northup's book for the screen. He immersed himself in the 1800s to write the film. Ridley’s other writing credits include "Sending My Love to Linda," "Three Kings," and "Red Tails."


John Ridley, Screenwriter, “12 Years a Slave,” “Red Tails,” and “Three Kings”