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After Last Night's Big Academy Award Win, What's Next For Director Steve McQueen?

by Tambay A. Obenson
March 3, 2014 1:04 PM
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I'd say that, after last night, all eyes are on what both director Steve McQueen and actress Lupita Nyong'o will do next - unquestionably 2 of the more interesting talents in the business at the moment, both still relative newbies (although he'd already achieved success and acclaim as a video artist, 12 Years A Slave is McQueen's 3rd feature directorial effort; and Lupita only recently graduated from Yale Drama School - class of 2012; with 12 Years A Slave being her feature acting debut).

We've given lots of virtual ink to Lupita's potential Hollywood (and non-Hollywood) acting career. She's unquestionably the woman of the hour. And at the other end of that conversation is Steve McQueen, who I'd say is a contender for man of the hour today, with his big win last night. Although he may have to wrestle the title away from Matthew McConaughey.

Years ago, after his feature directorial debut, Hunger, McQueen was attached to helm the Focus Features long-in-development Fela Kuti biopic, with Chiwetel Ejiofor starring. This was in 2009/2010, thereabouts. 

That project is still in Limbo, although McQueen has long since moved (he went on to direct Shame), and Andrew Dosunmu is now attached to direct.

In a January 2014 report by The Hollywood Reporter, McQueen told the magazine that "the movie is dead," referring to the Fela Kuti biopic, adding that "they didn't have the money. It's just one of those things that happens in this business.

He of course went on to direct 12 Years A Slave after Shame. Although, in an email exchange I had with Dosunmu on the Fela project, he said that, as far as he knew, the project was still alive. But he couldn't share anything more than that - understandably so.

In my fall 2013 interview with McQueen, as 12 Years A Slave was about to open commercially, a question I was thankfully able to squeeze into my 12 minutes, was what we can expect from him next. His response then: a musical. Although, as shared, he hadn't yet decided on what that potential musical would be.

But, soon after my chat with him, an announcement revealed that the much-talked-about director's next project may not be a musical after all. And, in fact, it won't be a project that will be released in theaters. 

Last October, McQueen set up a project at HBO, with World War Z co-writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, as well as Russell Simmons (yes, that Russell Simmons), and the Oscar-winning producers of The King’s Speech, Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.

Details were (and still are) sparse on the drama project, but it's being described as "an exploration of a young African American man’s experience entering New York high society, with a past that may not be what it seems."

I was instantly intrigued when the news broke, needless to say. I immediately began considering all the potential themes a concept like this could explore. And knowing that it will be in McQueen's hands, and on a cable TV network like HBO, was (and still is) very encouraging.

As I told him during our conversation, I think he's in very rare air right now, as a filmmaker of African descent who has the industry's full attention, and is probably in a position to do almost anything he wants. At the very least, he's in demand, and he'll definitely be heard. How many other black filmmakers can say any of that today? And he's been able to accomplish this with just 3 films. 

The still untitled HBO project is expected to be in his signature provocative style, and is further being described as “Six Degrees Of Separation meets Shame.

I loathe those reductive industry comparisons, but I understand why they are commonplace.

HBO was said to be fast-tracking the project, meaning it'll likely be McQueen's next directorial effort, with casting underway. But we've heard nothing new since the initial report in October 2013.

The concept definitely intrigues, and I'm curious to know more about what McQueen's cooking up for us next.

3 months after that project news, the 44-year-old filmmaker told the UK's Daily Mail in an interview, that he was working on a drama about the lives of black Britons for the BBC - a second TV project. 

The drama would be "epic in scope" and follow the lives of a group of friends and their families from 1968 to 2014. 

"I don't think there has been a serious drama series in Britain with black people from all walks of life as the main protagonists," McQueen said in the interview, and he wants to do something about that.

He added that the project, which is still in its early stages, would be developed over the next year with a writer and group of actors. He said it would be set in London, adding: "This isn't a black Our Friends in the North", referring to the 1996 BBC drama which followed four friends from Newcastle. 

The BBC is teaming up with McQueen and Rainmark Films on the project, sharing that it was "incredibly exciting to be working with the hugely talented British director who has rapidly become one of the finest directors in the world.

And he'll be taking all that talent to the small screen it would appear, likely with the HBO project first, given that it was fast-tracked. Although, I certainly won't be surprised if it's announced sometime over the next month or 2 or 3, that McQueen is attached to some other feature film that he'll make before either of the 2 TV projects.

I can only imagine the kinds of offers he's been getting, in Hollywood and outside of it. I'd assume he has his pick of projects.

McQueen, who was born in London but now lives in Amsterdam, first found fame as a video artist, winning the Turner Prize in 1999. His mainstream movie career began with 2008's Hunger (I think his most interesting film to date) about the Northern Irish hunger strikers, followed by the 2011 sex addiction drama Shame - both starring Michael Fassbender.

No we wait with anticipation to learn what he will do next... it just might be that musical after all. 

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  • J Bernard Jones | March 4, 2014 1:54 PMReply

    Jesus Christ, you people bitching about whether he's "Black," "black," "Black British," "African American" or whatnot need to get the f**k over it.

  • deecreative | March 3, 2014 10:52 PMReply

    I'm very interested to see his BBC series, more so than the HBO one which I feel is nothing new but I feel the BBC series can be well received here in the U.S. most black Americans know Steve McQueen is British, yes he's black but we know he's British just like we know Idris is. They are both black and we embrace them as black people of African descent but we know they're not American. Someone in the media can't write and messing things up.

  • LL2 | March 10, 2014 9:12 PM

    @West Indian Film Person

    I obviously must have struck a nerve if you can't explain yourself without resulting to name calling. You also don't seem to get what I was saying. The focus of this blog is not to address your specific concern. Why come to a blog about the the African Disapora and make an issue of someone being referred to as having African descent? That makes no sense at all, not to me and certainly not to the people who run this blog. You do want to differentiate yourself when you have an issue with Steve McQueen being grouped with other black people as a person of African descent. You may not like what I said, but it is the truth, the purpose of this blog is not to address your specific issue or concern. Like I said, this may not be the blog for you.

  • West Indian Film person | March 4, 2014 11:51 PM

    I could live with African West Indian decent. At least it doesn't ignore the fact that he is of West Indian heritage, whether it be Grenadian, Trinidadian, St. Lucian, Guyanese, Jamaican, Bajan, etc.

    Don't be a complete spaz. My comment doesn't indicate anything about me not having a connection to other black people of African descent or feeling a strong need to differentiate myself from whoever, and all that other gibberish your puking out here on this blog. My point is real simple. His West Indian heritage seems to be ignored my the media and twats like Shadow & Act. End of story.

  • LL2 | March 4, 2014 2:52 PM

    @West Indian Film Person

    I'm going to repeat my previous statement. You do realize that the name of this blog is "Shadow and Act: On Cinema of the African Diaspora?" If you don't feel a connection to other black people of African descent and feel a strong need to differentiate yourself from them, perhaps this is not the blog for you.

  • mk | March 4, 2014 11:06 AM

    It's all about context.
    In the context of 12YaS (a movie about the enslavement of African peoples) it seems appropriate to mention that the director himself is of African descent. If you say he is of West Indian descent, than you'd still have to add that he is not of Chinese-West Indian descent, nor of Indian-West Indian, nor of Javanese-West Indian, nor of European-West Indian, but of African-West Indian descent. You get my drift.

  • West Indian Film person | March 4, 2014 1:31 AM

    Excluding his Grenadian heritage is basically saying his parents and grandparent's upbringing in the West Indian country never happened. That's absurd. You're better off saying he is of Grenadian descent rather than saying he is of African descent. Both are true, but if you had to choose one, it should be the country where even his great grandparents came of age. Let's stop acting like the West Indian culture don't matter. You cry divide and conquer but the biggest opposition West Indians got in America was from AFRICAN AMERICANS. I know because my parents and my family members lived it.

  • Filmguy | March 3, 2014 10:41 PMReply

    What does it matter which land your feet touch? Booty still black.

  • Peggy | March 3, 2014 10:36 PMReply

    White Americans don't care if he's Grenadian or Canadian. He's black and has an attitude problem which means he won't be directing anything in Hollywood anytime soon. Unless it is on TV and HBO doesn't do black people unless they are in jail or on their way to jail.

  • Ava | March 3, 2014 7:01 PMReply

    Wasn't it mentioned somewhere that McQueen was doing a project about West Indian immigrants in England and the generations that came out of that migration? I'm not sure whether it will focus on the Windrush generation and their children and grandchildren but I am longing to see something like this onscreen.

  • We are Humans | March 3, 2014 4:51 PMReply

    He is still Black when he walks in a room. Why is it an issue where his roots are from? He is A Black Man. I tired of stupid divide and conquer politics because your Black and not from America.

  • LL2 | March 4, 2014 2:50 PM


    You do realize that the name of this blog is "Shadow and Act: On Cinema of the African Diaspora?" If you don't feel a connection to other black people of African descent and feel a strong need to differentiate yourself from them, perhaps this is not the blog for you.

  • Dean | March 3, 2014 10:28 PM

    It's not divide and conquer. It's telling the truth. He's black/of African descent but, for example, he's not African American. African Americans are the descendants of Africans enslaved and brought to America, which he is not. He's not of Jamaican descent either. It's fine that he's of Grenadian descent.

    I don't recommend that all white people be called British or French either because they may be Irish, Scot, Belgian, German, Swiss, etc. Just as whites are multi-ethnic, so are blacks.

  • WE ARE HUMANS. | March 3, 2014 4:53 PM

    *Im tired

  • Zaneta | March 3, 2014 1:18 PMReply

    You fail to mention explicitly that he is Black British of Grenadian descent, as a Black British person of Caribbean descent I hate it when people try to gloss over our roots, yes we are or African origin too but that was a few hundred years ago.

  • LL2 | March 4, 2014 2:53 PM

    You do realize that the name of this blog is "Shadow and Act: On Cinema of the African Diaspora?" Why come here if you don't feel a connection to other black people of African descent and feel a strong need to differentiate yourself from them?

  • mk | March 3, 2014 11:14 PM

    *parents from Grenada

  • mk | March 3, 2014 11:13 PM

    Come on, Zaneta.
    In the 1000+ posts that this blog has dedicated to McQueen and 12YaS in the past 18 months or so, at least 900+ times it has been mentioned that he is British with parents from Grenadian/the Caribbean. Also, what is wrong with calling him a person 'of African descent'? Isn't this blog dedicated to film makers 'of the African Diaspora'? Had you rather he did not qualify to be a topic here?
    As a fellow black European I understand where your frustration comes from. Americans representing the dominant world culture, they sometimes 'confiscate' non-American legacies when it suits them, but that has not been happening here on S&A.

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