“12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley and Solomon Northup, whose memoir inspired the film, were named winners at the 26th annual USC Libraries Scripter Award ceremony Saturday, honoring the year’s best adaptation of the written word to film.
In accepting the award, Ridley first acknowledged Robert Towne, whose daughter presented him with the Scripter Literary Achievement award, the only other prize given that evening. “I don’t know, in your career, how many writers have come to you and said ‘I’m here because of you.’ But if I can’t do anything else tonight, let me say I’m here because of you,” Ridley said.
Ridley also said that the process of writing an adaptation has been “new and different” for him and talked about the relationship between the writer and the originator. He got emotional as he spoke about how he learned of Northup’s life.
“There was a question asked earlier – whether we need books in libraries – and I can say that I certainly did,” Ridley said. “Before this, I didn’t know who Solomon Northup was and I didn’t know his story.”
After introducing some of Northup’s descendants who were present at the event, Ridley expressed his thanks to “12 Years” director Steve McQueen, the Fox Searchlight, New Regency and Plan B teams, actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, and then singled out actress Alfre Woodard (pictured with John Ridley) for her contributions to the film.
Other guests at the event represented the other four nominees for the award: “Philomena” co-writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, plus Martin Sixsmith, author of “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”; captain Richard Phillips and screenwriter Billy Ray, for “Captain Phillips”; Scott Neustadter, co-writer of “The Spectacular Now”; and scripters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne for “What Maisie Knew.”
Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC libraries, served as the MC of the event, held in the Edward L. Doheny Memorial Library. The proceeds from evening, which included a silent auction, will support the renovation of the university’s 20 year-old Leavey Library.
In her opening address, Quinlan noted the common theme of coming of age that unites the five scripter award finalists. She made brief remarks on each finalist, including the fact that “12 Years a Slave” makes audiences rethink traditional notions of slavery.
“As a contemporary audience, we make assumptions about the horrors of slavery,” Quinlan said. “But Solomon Northup’s first-person account of his 12 years in bondage invites a more complex understanding of something that we all think that we know about.”