Mandela Biopic Failed Because 12 Years A Slave 'Sucked Up All The Guilt'

Ben Arnold
Yahoo Movies UK
2 June 2014

The screenwriter of 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' has said that the film failed to live up to its critical and commercial potential because '12 Years A Slave' 'sucked up all the guilt'.

William Nicholson, who had been previously nominated for his scripts for 'Gladiator' and 'Shadowlands', penned the biopic, which starred Idris Elba as former South African president Nelson Mandela.

But it was roundly snubbed at this year's Oscars, and performed disappointingly at the box office.

According to reports, Nicholson spent 15 years working on the screenplay, delivering 33 drafts.

[Film blogger's misjudged Mandela tweet prompts parody]

“I think it worked superbly. I'm incredibly proud of this film. Unfortunately it didn't get the kind of acclaim that I wanted. It didn't get Oscars,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“'12 Years A Slave' came out in America and that sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available.

Screenplay writer William Nicholson attends a news conference for the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill (CANADA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Screenplay writer William Nicholson attends a news conference for the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill (CANADA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

“They 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.

“We showed it to test audiences very extensively and it got astounding responses. These things are measured in percentages and it was in the high 90s every time. So, honestly, we thought we had a winner. And when it didn't become a winner it was devastating, actually, it was very distressing.

“I really thought it was going to win lots of awards, partly because it's a good story but also because I thought I'd done a really good job and the director had done a really good job. So it has been very tough for me. Some things work and some things don't. You just have to soldier on."

Nicholson didn't stop there, however, adding that Mandela's death damaged the film's chances too.

“Mandela died as I was in the royal premiere with Will and Kate. Suddenly the word came through that he died. We were deluged with Mandela stuff and after a week we all thought, please, take it away, we've heard enough about Mandela,” he said.

[Morgan Freeman mistaken for Mandela on billboard]

He then added that nearly all the speeches he wrote for the film were all made up by him, because Mandela's actual speeches were 'so boring'.

“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,” he said.

“It's a sadness. In all the speeches there's always a good line, but they're not very good.”

'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' was released in January, and is yet to recoup its $35 million budget.

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