There are many hidden gems in the pool of Wisconsinites who have grown to have great success in their lives, especially within the entertainment world. Just a few of more well-known Wisconsinites are Orson Welles, Les Paul, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Miller. But Wisconsin has produced more than actors and musicians- it has also been the origin of some incredible people behind the scenes of the entertainment scene. One such person, known most famously for his award-winning screenplay for “12 Years a Slave”, is John Ridley.
Ridley was born in Milwaukee and raised in Mequon since he was seven years old, along with his younger and older sisters. His father was an ophthalmologist and his mother was special education teacher in the Milwaukee Area district. John Ridley graduated from Mequon’s Homestead High School and went on to transfer to attend New York University after first enrolling in Indiana University.
After his college graduation, Ridley moved to Los Angeles where he was a stand-up comedian and even appeared on “The Tonight Show” with David Letterman. He also wrote for television shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Third Watch”, wrote novels such as “Everybody Smokes in Hell” and “Stray Dogs”, and wrote graphic novels such as “The Authority: Human on the Inside” and “The American Way.” He directed his first film adapted from his novel “Cold Around the Heart”, and co-adapted his novel “Stray Dogs” into “U Turn” with Oliver Stone. His novel “Spoils of War” was also adapted into David O. Russell’s film “Three Kings.”
John Ridley was a screenwriter for “Red Tails” and “Undercover Brothers”, but reached the pinnacle of his screenwriting career thus far when he wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning film, “12 Years a Slave”. Ridley himself won several awards, including the Oscar, for Best Adapted Screenplay for this work. Ridley was the second African-American to win this prestigious award, following Geoffrey S. Fletcher, who won for “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” “12 Years a Slave” is a period drama adapted from the 1853 slave memoir by Solomon Northup. The film also received the Academy Award for Best Film and Lupita N’yongo also won for Best Supporting Actress. “12 Years a Slave” has been nominated for 322 awards and won 145 of them.
While John Ridley has certainly made his way up in the world, he’s connected back to his Wisconsin roots as his Jimi Hendrix biopic, “Jimi: All Is By My Side” made its way through the film festival circuit. The highly anticipated film stars Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 of Outkast) as Hendrix from a very close, artistic point of view. Ridley personally attended the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival for its screening of the film at The Oriental Theater and remained afterwards to answer questions during a Q&A session.
Screenwriter, novelist, producer, and director John Ridley is just one of many remarkable people to have shared in a Wisconsin upbringing, and he most certainly has more impressive work ahead of him. For more information on John Ridley and his full filmography, please visit IMDB.