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John Ridley Hopes To Get His Ambitious LA Riots Project Into Production w/ Justin Lin Directing

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 7, 2013 11:30 AM
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A name that may not be getting as much credit and publicity for his contributions to Steve McQueen's universally-lauded (so far) 12 Years A Slave, is the man who wrote the script. After all, as any filmmaker or producer worth their salt will tell you, it all starts on the page. 

And not only did he pen the screenplay adaptation for 12 Years A Slave, which is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, he also wrote the script for and directed another film making its debut at Toronto - the Jimi Hendrix biopic starring Andre Benjamin, All Is By My Side.

I'm referring to John Ridley.

It might not immediately register that the same scribe who wrote the screenplay for the action-comedy Undercover Brother, would also be responsible for the script of an austere film about slavery - one that some are calling THE definitive film on the subject, compared to those that precede it.

But then again, you also may not immediately believe that John Sayles was responsible for scripts for creature-feature movies like Alligator and Piranha

It's called versatility, I suppose.

A hat-tip to Mr Ridley (who also penned Spike Lee's HBO series Da Brick, which never made it to air, as well as George Clooney's Persian Gulf War drama Three Kings) for his immense contributions to a film that's currently the talk of the town, and at the top of every prognosticator's Oscar contender's list, and for another film that will premiere at TIFF shortly. I'm looking to reading reactions to that one as well.

In the meantime, you should know that Ridley is currently developing a film based on the 1992 Los Angeles riots, with Ron Howard's and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment.

Justin Lin (director of 4 Fast & Furious movies) is attached to direct what was a "Black List" script that Ridley wrote on spec and sold in 2007, and has been trying to get financed since then. Although he continues to work on rewrites, anxious to move the project into production finally, given the timeliness of the subject matter, in light of recent events, telling Variety that, "I feel like we’ve got to make this happen now. People often think that it was limited to Rodney King and Reginald Denny, but there are so many other interconnected stories.

He goes on further to say: “It was a systemic meltdown... The city and how it functions is the primary character of the film.

Essentially, instead of focusing entirely on the 1992 riots, Ridley's script is much more expansive and broader in scope, focusing on race while also going beyond race, and tackling all the hot-button issues of the period, that would eventually culminate in the riots.

I recall reading a report years ago stating that the film will follow the lives of everyday Los Angeles natives, and the story will unfold via their respective POVs.

It sounds like it could be a Traffic-esque treatment of the riots, providing varying points of view, probably before, during and after.

I should note that this is a project that Spike Lee was previously attached to direct, from Ridley's script.

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  • Iris | September 9, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    I can't believe that John Ridley has wrote so many scripts.
    I do not know much about him before this article.The cooperation between John and Lin will be amazing.
    The film,LA Riots,seems to be very dramatic.Even then the black chase his money,almost all his money has gone to the pocket of his lawyer.What a pity.The film is based on a true story which made me pay more attention.
    At last,I hope the LA Riots to be a giant success.

  • Donella | September 11, 2013 12:34 PM

    He used to write for Martin and The Fresh Prince back in the good old days. He's been in the mix a while.

  • sandra | September 8, 2013 6:59 PMReply

    I hope he can capitalize on The Butler's success. There were reports that police officers were present in various auditoriums across the U.S. for The Butler screenings. I guess they'll have to call in the army when the riot movie opens.

  • Ling | September 8, 2013 12:41 PMReply

    I have seen his film undercover brother which really amused me deeply.
    Although i'm not familiar with the black culture,i still can feel the spirit of optimisitic and hope in it.The story is funny and kuso,maybe that's an important part of the black culture which are love to self-mockery.
    Thus, I consider John Ridley as an unique writer who can catch the small things in the daily life and turn it into a warm story to make everybody laugh.
    I always agree to the word' Suffering is a university in which no one is willing to study'. Black creat their own culture during last century such as hip pop,poor handwriting and jazz etc.Black arrtists embodies the memories and hopes of his struggle for freedom,then express themselves in an comfortable way.That's really fantanstic!

  • Celluloidread | September 7, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    John Ridley has a longer resume than the article really gives him credit for. He's been working in Hollywood as writer, producer, director since the mid 90s in television and film.

  • Donella | September 7, 2013 4:48 PMReply

    He also wrote the screenplay for Oliver Stone's U-Turn (Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton).

    Undercover Brother was smart satire along the lines of I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Austin Powers, and Black Dynamite. Not everyone has the intelligence to write comedy well (Mooney, Chappelle, Rock, etc), but Ridley has shown that he can handle both drama and comedy.

    12 Years a Slave continues to amaze on the festival circuit.

    I watch Gold Derby, an online odds-maker to track Oscar chances of certain movies. It looks as though the steepest adapted screenplay competition for 12 Years a Slave is August:Osage County. I don't know anything about that movie other than Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are in it.

    Last year, I was pulling for Life of Pi, but I'm really excited for 12 Years a Slave this year having read the book and seen clips of the resulting adaptation.

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