John Ridley, author, screenwriter, and film director wins Academy Award

By Lynda L. Jones

John Ridley

John Ridley

Milwaukee born and raised, John Ridley, IV became the second African American to receive an Academy Award for screenwriting this past Sunday in Hollywood, CA.

Ridley is accomplished in various areas of the writing and film industry.

He is an author of several books, and he has written and/or directed such movies as; Three Kings, Undercover Brother, Red Tails, U Turn as well as 12 Years A Slave to his credit as well.

He referenced in his acceptance speech the training that he received early in his career when he was a writer for various comedy sitcoms.

One of his first jobs was in 1993 as a writer for the sitcom Martin, starring comedian Martin Lawrence and the following year in 1994 he wrote for The Prince of Bel Air, starring Will Smith.

He even wrote for the highly rated television show Third Watch from 1999- 2004.

He continued to work in television and pursue his other writing projects as well at the same time.

Ridley has said that comedy writing and the art of stand up which he also worked in the early days is a true form of writing that helped him to further develop as a well rounded writer.

Asked in an interview, if it was hard to go from comedy to hard material such as 12 Years A Slave, he said the elements that he learned in comedy, in telling a narrative and shaping a story and having a arch to the story and even directing are all related in writing any type of story.

In preparation for writing the screenplay based on the book, 12 Years A Slave written by Solomon Northup in 1843, Ridley says that in addition to reading the memoir, and studying the elements of the language, he found his best source was reading the newspapers of the era.

“Newspapers write and speak to the people as a whole, so the language is not as elevated as what you would find in other literature of the era or even plays, because everyone needs to be able to read it.” Ridley states.

In addition to the many awards that this movie has received, Ridley along with others are encouraging that educational institutions take on placing this book in history curriculums throughout the education system.

Ridley notes that in 1843 when the book was published, it was a best selling book, and in addition Solomon traveled throughout the world as a abolitionist speaking on it.

Yet, still the memoir had been locked away and forgotten.

Ridley himself stated that he had never heard of the book or Solomon Northup from his education background, and he had a good one.

In fact Ridley attended University School of Milwaukee, graduated from Homestead High School and graduated from New York University.

He says that this piece of work should not be looked at as just a piece of American History that happened along time ago, because worldwide and in the United States there is still slavery occurring.

In fact, it has been reported that worldwide the numbers are more than 20 million.

As far as the Oscar win, he reportedly told Vanity Fair that it is going to be sent home to his parents in Mequon, WI. “They deserve it.

I wouldn’t be here without them. That’s where it deserves to be.”

In an email to the Journal Sentinel, his father, John Ridley III., wrote:

“It appears the film will have a life after the award season.

‘12 Years’ may achieve the status of a reference for those who desire to understand the realities of the lives of America’s slaves.

For starters, the American School Boards Association has expressed an intent to distribute the film to high schools across the country.

We’ll see what else transpires. This has been a wonderful experience for our entire family with the promise of more to come.”