‘12 Years a Slave’ was, rightfully, the recipient of huge praise and numerous awards. The remarkable story of Solomon Northrup - portrayed by Chiwitel Ejiofor - was masterfully directed by Steve McQueen. But that success, suggests screenwriter William Nicholson, was to the detriment of his film, ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

Nelson Mandela Idris ElbaNaomie Harris Mandela
Idris Elba [L] as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris [R] as Winnie Mandela

Nicholson said ’12 Years’ "sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available” adding that he thought ‘Mandela’ “worked superbly," 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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Nelson Mandela, who is played by Idris Elba in the biopic, passed away on December 5 of 2013, while the film was still rolling out to various countries. "We were deluged wit Mandela stuff and after a week we all thought, ‘Please take it away, we've heard enough about Mandela,’" Nicholson said, adding to an already healthy back catalougue of unpopular comments. 

But just to make sure, he also called Mandela's speeches "boring,” saying: "All but one (of the speeches in the movie) were made up by me because his own 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."

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‘Mandela’ wasn’t just snubbed by the various awards bodies, though; the critics weren’t in love with it either, offering up a lukewarm response to the tune of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes. Their main gripe was the attempt to cover Mandela’s rich and deeply diverse story within the confines of a feature film. It was all just too much, or not enough, depending on which way you look at it. But for Nicholson, it wasn’t about telling two remarkable stories. For him it was clearly about competition.