30th Scripter Award honors "12 Years a Slave"
165 years since Publication, Twelve Years A Slave still breaking records
This Saturday, February 8, marks the 30th Scripter Award Gala hosted by University of Southern California at Los Angeles. For one evening each year the Doheny Memorial Library is transformed from an intellectual destination to a colorful event highlighting the year’s most prolific films amidst a crowd of entertainment elite.
This year also marks the 4th anniversary since Solomon Northup (posthumous) and screenwriter John Ridley won the 26th USC Scripter Award for 12 Years A Slave. Northup, a free citizen of New York penned his freedom narrative upon release from slavery in 1853. Having been kidnapped and sold to slave traders in Washington, D.C., he would be sent to Louisiana under the alias Platt Hamilton for nearly twelve years before securing his release, his reverse experience as a free citizen stolen into slavery gave a voice to thousands of enslaved in Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853 published by Derby & Miller, Auburn, New York.
On the win, Ridley remarked in his acceptance speech “There’s a very special relationship that forms between the writer and the originator,” and “Until I read Solomon’s memoir, I didn’t know what being a writer was about” to Deadline. Also in attendance to support the nomination of ’12 Years A Slave’ were Northup descendants Melissa Howell and Rebecca Bicksler of Central New York and Michelle Linzy and daughter Milan of California. Howell accepted the posthumous award on behalf of her ancestor Solomon Northup.
Since its inception in 1988 by the Friends of USC Libraries, the annual Scripter Award honors both the screenwriter and the author for the theatrical adaptation of an original written work for cinema. Other 2014 finalists also included:
• Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, authors of A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, and screenwriter Billy Ray, for Captain Phillips
• Author Martin Sixsmith, who wrote the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, for Philomena
• Novelist Tim Tharp and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber for The Spectacular Now
• Screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne for What Maisie Knew, adapted from the novel by Henry James.
‘12 Years A Slave’ director Steve McQueen had sought out a subject for a film based on slavery for a future project. It was his partner, Bianca Stigter, a historical writer and cultural critic, who suggested to McQueen he look at authentic slave narratives. Offering her assistance, Stitger unearthed Solomon’s 1853 narrative Twelve Years A Slave presenting it to McQueen who could
not put the book down upon first glance. In an NPR interview, McQueen stated “I was pretty upset with myself that I didn't know this book. ... Slowly but surely I realized that most people,
in fact all the people I knew did not know this book.”
A few unknown facts about the significance of the 2014 Scripter win for ‘12 Years A Slave’:
• Solomon Northup is the first-ever former slave to be nominated and win the Scripter Award as author of an original work
• Solomon Northup, author, and John Ridley, screenwriter, are the first African- American duo to win the Scripter for an adapted work
• ‘12 Years A Slave’ was the first slave-narrative adapted for film to win the Scripter
• Up to 2014, ’12 Years A Slave’ was the 8th winner of the Scripter Award to go on and win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
• ’12 Years A Slave’ was the 1st production by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment to win Scripter. Other films to have won include The Big Short (2016) and Moonlight
For Solomon Northup, the USC Scripter Award is a remarkable win for the 19th century native New Yorker. It is the first and only documented award to be awarded him in recognition of his
narrative now in its 165 year since publication.
To commemorate Northup’s freedom and the publication of Twelve Years A Slave, descendants Melissa Howell and Irene Northrup-Zahos have co-partnered on the Solomon Northup 165th Anniversary Year Project, which will mark the year with numerous recognitions and events in Central New York. Howell and Northrup-Zahos said their vision is “to ensure Solomon’s seat at the table” and to preserve local history “emphasizing the important role Central New York played in the anti-slavery movement.”