Markets, don’tcha just hate ’em?

The British screenwriter of last year’s Nelson Mandela biopic has complained that Oscar voters ignored his film because “12 Years a Slave sucked up all the guilt about black people”.

William Nicholson said he was devastated by the critical and commercial disappointment of Nelson Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which starred Idris Elba as the South African leader.

Nicholson, 66, has been Oscar-nominated twice before, for Gladiator and Shadowlands, and said he had been certain that the Mandela biopic would be similarly successful.

How dare someone release a movie that competes with my work of art!

25 comments on “Markets, don’tcha just hate ’em?

  1. It is slightly encouraging that he is self-aware about trading on guilt. I guess it’s less easy for the writer to delude himself than for the actors.

  2. He discussed the process of writing the biopic, disclosing that he had invented most of Mandela’s speeches in the film because the real thing was too dull. “All but one of the speeches were made up by me because his own speeches are so boring. 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”.

    You’d have thought alarm bells would have rung at an early stage for this writer.

  3. “12 Years a Slave sucked up all the guilt about black people”

    Yeah, damn White people. If only they would keep the gravy train running forever.

    Although why White guilt should continue the Cult of Personality around this particular corrupt Stalinist mass murderer escapes me.

  4. Didn’t realise slave guilt was a zero-sum game.

    It’s always seemed to be a growth area of the economy amongst our intellectual betters. They’re always digging out new deposits of the stuff and turning it into fresh and exciting products.

  5. “You’d have thought alarm bells would have rung at an early stage for this writer.”

    These people aren’t very self-aware, are they?

  6. Stuck Records

    They’re only exciting products if people are prepared to buy them. Here it seems they weren’t.

  7. Stuck record – “Didn’t realise slave guilt was a zero-sum game.”

    What is interesting is that it seems not just zero-sum but also fungible. After all, Mandela cannot claim a share of slave guilt. Not being, of course, a slave or descended from one or even from a region that produced many slaves. Well, the Khoi San aside. He is just Black.

    But we knew this already as Obama got elected on slave guilt and his only connection with slavery is that his mother’s family used to own some.

    The interesting question would be how fungible it is. Can it transfer across races? Is antisemitism going to become socially acceptable as long as you’re of African descent? Farakhan and Jessie Jackson are probably dying for an answer. We have already seen it is acceptable if you’re anti-Imperialist enough (ie you hate all White people not just Jewish ones) in Palestinians and other Muslims.

    In other news, Justin Bieber has been caught using the N word. Just like Donald Sterling. Of course we all know that Bieber wants to be Black so badly. Sterling, less so. So given Bieber flatters Black self-esteem while Sterling hits a little too close to home, I am sure that Beiber could still buy an NBA team this week.

    But when it comes to race, we live in very interesting times.

  8. Tom Paine,

    It is slightly encouraging that he is self-aware about trading on guilt.

    There are movies that are basically designed to appeal to the Academy. Not an audience, or even to be a visionary piece of work. Producers have worked out what The Academy, as a whole, will vote for in terms of subject matter. No-one’s even sure if they like the films (in the case of 2 voters they privately admitted voting for 12 Years a Slave without seeing it because it seemed important), but they know what boxes to tick. In some cases, the film hits multiple boxes, like The King’s Speech that manages to tick those for disability, period piece, monarchy and WW2, all subjects that the Academy likes.

    But once the Academy votes for it, the public then go see it in quite decent numbers and it’ll make money.

  9. Not seen either film, but can anyone explain why Elba was so great in The Wire but totally crap in Luther?

  10. I haven’t seen either 12 Years a Slave or Long Walk to Freedom, because whitesploitation films and worthy dramas aren’t really my thing. I like comedies and zombie films.

    I saw a big pile of 12 Years DVD’s in the supermarket recently and it had a large cardboard display with Chiwetel Ejiofor in profile running across a bright yellow background, which made it look like a racist version of Catch Me If You Can.

    I’m not surprised it did better than Mandela, because it seems like a sadder story and has two great actors in it – Elijofor does the soulful, wide-eyed emotional stuff and Michael Fassbender is in it for the ladies.

    Long Walk has the guy from Luther. I’ve never seen Luther either but he’s probably a fine actor. However, from the Sky adverts he looks less sympathetic than Chiwetel Ejiofor, and more like the crazy black boss from Peep Show. Watching him sit in jail for 30 years before becoming President doesn’t sound like the emotional rollercoaster ride that Slave Me If You Can probably is.

    White guilt about black people is definitely a non-renewable resource, and unlike Holocaust dramas, which never seem to go out of style, the put-upon black guy drama has more limited and cyclical appeal.

    I think there are a number of reasons for this – the Holocaust was more recent and more hellishly awful than even 19th century slavery, it had the Nazis in it, who are still the ultimate baddies when you need a dramatic antagonist, and the awful truth is that most white people, even lefties who go on about that sort of thing, don’t actually feel guilty about stuff that happened to black people 150 odd years ago, or even 50 years ago.

    They don’t, unless they’re German, feel guilty about the Holocaust either but 20th century Jews are more relatable.

  11. The Mandela biopic was a poor film, although Idris Elba was good. 12 Years A Slave was simply better. End of story.

  12. …just remembered, my viewing of it at the Picturehouse in Greenwich was spoilt by this drunk and disorderly Caledonian, quite likely emotionally fragile too, who kept moaning from the back row and crying out “Mandela, Mandela…the black horse is coming to get yooze all. Oh yes”. Happily, he was herded out through the emergency exit into, one assumes, a waiting ambulance or the embrace of the police.

  13. The Great Redacto: “Mandela, Mandela…the black horse is coming to get yooze all. Oh yes”

    But not until Long Walk 2: The Legend of Black Beauty’s Gold

  14. 12 Years a Slave was a decent enough film in its own right, and a story worth telling. But I didn’t feel any white guilt, or any other guilt, my having not been involved with the slave trade in antebellum USA. Was I supposed to?

  15. Tim – I think so. There’s definitely an interesting selective reading of history going on.

    For example, well into the 18th century English people used to be kidnapped by Muslim pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. You could imagine a cracking screenplay about that, maybe a thrilling action adventure in the Sharpe mould. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear in the local Odeon.

    I watched Titanic and felt guilty about being an iceberg.

    Only kidding. I was laughing my floes off the whole time. Die pathetic humans!

  16. Obama got elected on slave guilt and his only connection with slavery is that his mother’s family used to own some.

    There’s a quote of the day.

  17. I wonder if anyone here could assist me:

    Who should I make my cheque out to as compensation for the fact that I am a white and middle class resident of the UK.

  18. I wonder if anyone here could assist me:

    Who should I make my cheque out to as compensation for the fact that I am a white and middle class male resident of the UK.

  19. Steve, another movie we’re going to miss is A Thousand Years of Sex Slaves, Eunuchs and dead babies with a vibrant background of trails leading to the markets of Araby. Boko Haram killing men and boys and abducting girls, being the publicity department manque.

  20. I am looking forward to Twelve Years a Slav, about a gang of pre-pubescent pickpockets in Osijek.

  21. For example, well into the 18th century English people used to be kidnapped by Muslim pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. You could imagine a cracking screenplay about that, maybe a thrilling action adventure in the Sharpe mould.

    I don’t know if it’s on DVD in the UK, but the silent version of The Sea Hawk (not the Errol Flynn movie, which is a different story) deals with this topic. For anybody else in the US, it’s going to be on TCM on Friday evening.

  22. Ljh – “Steve, another movie we’re going to miss is A Thousand Years of Sex Slaves, Eunuchs and dead babies with a vibrant background of trails leading to the markets of Araby. Boko Haram killing men and boys and abducting girls, being the publicity department manque.”

    I did like the Beeb giving time to an Egyptian asserting that the Boko Haram kidnappings had nothing to do with Islam. Yes dear, the religion was just founded by a man who killed the men and took the women as sex slaves, Muslims have been doing it for the past 1500 or so years, and Islamists are doing it now. But nothing to do with Islam at all.

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “I am looking forward to Twelve Years a Slav, about a gang of pre-pubescent pickpockets in Osijek.”

    Twelve Years a Slag? About a group of Birmingham school girls?

    Not as interesting as it sounds I guess.

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