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Interview: 12 Minutes w/ Steve McQueen - On '12 Years A Slave,' His 'Brand,' His 'Blackness' & More

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 18, 2013 9:57 AM
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Steve McQueen

It's been about 4 weeks since I saw Steve McQueen's much-ballyhooed drama 12 Years A Slave, and also about the same amount of time since I interviewed him. It's a film that I intend to see a second time, if only to compare my reactions (to the film, as well as the reactions others have had) to the first time I saw it - reactions (certainly not all of them) that I shared during my conversation with McQueen, which led to one or two somewhat contentious exchanges, a little of which you will read in the interview below.

We've long been fans of Mr McQueen's work, since his feature film debut - the provocative, unsettling, avant-garde Hunger - and have become enamored with his pragmatic, candid ways - especially when dealing with the press. But it's one thing to observe this phenomenon from a distance, and quite another to experience it firsthand, which I had the pleasure of doing 5 Sundays ago at the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan, where the New York City press junket for 12 Years A Slave was held.

Ahead of the interview, despite the fact that I'd only been allotted 10 minutes with McQueen (about standard for junkets), being fully aware of what I was potentially up against - knowing that I was (and likely still am) in the minority, when I felt then (and still do feel now) that praise for the film has been excessive, and also being cognizant of his temperament - it was clear to me that I had to be well-prepared, given that I would be asking a few questions that would likely be considered criticisms of the film and the filmmaker. I usually am well-prepared for interviews, but, I'd readily admit that, this time, I wanted to be beyond ready. It's called respect.

Unfortunately, given that a healthy percentage of our 10 minutes (although it would eventually be 12 minutes) was spent in dispute over some of my claims, I didn't get to ask every single question I had for Mr McQueen.

But an interesting conversation it most certainly was - although it's been cleaned up a bit, if only for clarity. For example, there were several situations in which our words overlapped, and it's a challenge to convey the energy of those moments in print, and capture the body language, facial expressions, etc, which contributed significantly to the spirit of the conversation. But this is an interview transcript after all, not a screenplay.

TAMBAY OBENSON (TO): The one thing that really stuck out to me about the film is the passage of time which I didn't quite notice. I think I wanted to feel that 12 years pass, and really feel the weight of the oppression suffered over those 12 years. But, the way the film progressed, and maybe I just missed some cues, it almost felt like it played over just a matter of weeks or even days, as opposed to 12 long years. And Like I said, maybe I missed some cues, but I really wanted to feel the oppression over that lengthy passage of time, and not necessarily anything overt. 

STEVE MCQUEEN (SM): [short silence] You're the first person to ask me that question. You know, I think I've done that job. I'm not interested in having a situation where you tick off one year, or two years, or three years, and by the time you get to four, you're thinking, oh my God, there's 8 more years left in the movie. That does a disservice to the narrative. That's for other filmmakers to do if they want to do it. But for me, I needed to tell the time passing on the physicality of someone, on the familiarity of things in the movie that he was doing. Therefore, when you're invested in the story, these things come about. It becomes too much of a device that doesn't benefit the narrative. What I was interested in doing is having a dynamic narrative. 

TO: I just noticed at the end when he is finally reunited with his family - that's only when I realized that it had indeed been 12 years...

SM: Well, that's just not sophisticated. Putting onto the screen every single year...

TO: I think you misunderstand me. Not that specific. Like I said, nothing overt. Some subtle indications of this passage of time so that one actually feels the weight of 12 long years of oppression. So, no, not ticking off every single year... But, it's slavery era USA, and 12 years have passed from the beginning to the end of the film, and I wanted to feel the weight of oppression of time, and, I just didn't feel that.

SM: The subtle indication is filmmaking. I rely on filmmaking to tell me those kinds of stories, how, if you're invested in the story, you become familiar with what they're doing, how their faces age. How, for example, you've got Solomon running to Ms Shaw's house, saying "Ms Shaw, Master Epps is looking for Patsey, you've got to come now." Obviously he's more familiar at that point. So it's a more sophisticated way of showing the passage of time, rather than ticking a box. For me that wouldn't have been stimulating at all. 

TO: Again, to be clear, I'm not at all suggesting that you had to tick a box to show each year passing, or do something "unsophisticated" as you put it. It's more about feeling it. But maybe it was just me, since you say I was the first person to ask you that question. I do plan to watch the film again. But let me move on since my time is very short. So, I'd say that the overwhelming conversation about the film, from those who've seen it, is centered on the realism and brutality you depict in it, and how hard it is to watch and handle. And I almost have this impulse to chuckle at that, not out of disrespect, but it's just that I feel like it's a reality - slavery in America, the history, American history - that we all should already be familiar with at this point. If you've read or even heard about slavery in America, I'd think that you would be expecting to see the brutality of it, and you shouldn't be so shocked and surprised at what the film shows. I think maybe it speaks to the fact that this is the first film, in quite a long time, that really addresses the subject matter in a very realistic, non-sensational way. And so I wondered what your reaction is to the what the reactions to the film have been so far...

SM: I don't know where you're getting your information from, because the majority of the people are not saying that they can't handle the violence. That's just not true. Some people are saying it, but not the overwhelming number of people. You can't come in here and say something that isn't true. As a journalist, come on, I'm willing to talk to you, but you can't tell me untruths. 

TO: It's not a challenge or criticism of you or the film per say. More of my reaction to what I've read and heard as being the dominant conversation about the film. 

SM: I know it's not a criticism. But when you ask me a question you have to be accurate. You're a journalist, and I want to do the best I can for you and your website. So let's start this right. I try to answer your questions the best way that I can. The majority of people are not saying that, but some people are. You're sensationalizing the question for some reason.

TO: I'm not sensationalizing the question. But really Steve, come on, it's screened at Telluride and Toronto, and I'm telling you that reactions in general, based on what I read in other reviews, and what I heard from those who've seen it, people are taken by the realism and brutality of it. As if it's something they don't or can't recognize. 

SM: Some people. Some people.

TO: In your experience...

SM: In my experience. [short silence] You've come in, and unfortunately, your research is not particularly good. 

TO: Ok [laughter].

SM: If you say that some people have had that response, I can respond to that. But not to say that the majority of people have, as you said. 

TO: Ok, ok.  

SM: Ok. So let's start again [sigh]. My, this has been bizarre.

TO: Ok, let's [laughter].

SM: My response to that, is that, either we're making a movie about slavery or we're not. Now I want to make a movie about slavery. And in order to make a movie about slavery, one has to look at exactly what happened. Why people were slaves. The mental torture. And the physical torture. Now, I didn't want to pull punches in that department because, otherwise, you know, you can't make a movie about slavery that way, and I would be doing a disservice to the people that died, and the people that died, giving me my freedom, and I couldn't let that happen.

TO: I think the most impactful scene in the film is during the last half of it, when Lupita Nyong'o's character, Patsey, is whipped. That was probably the most heart-wrenching scene. We've actually been following Lupita for about 4 years, starting with when she did something for MTV Base in kenya - a show called Shuga on HIV awareness. And so when she was cast in the role, it was kind of a surprise for us, a pleasant one of course, since the rest of the film's starring cast comprises of actors whose names and faces much of America is already familiar with. So I'm interested in your finding her, so to speak, and casting her in this part.

SM: I wouldn't give myself credit for finding her at all. I mean, she already existed. It's just that, what was interesting about that, is that there was a hunt for Patsey. A huge hunt, which lasted a very long time. I think we saw about 1000 girls for that role. And Lupita... she came from out of nowhere. And, you know, I was wondering if she was real on the audition tape. And thank God she won the part, because she's sensational, she's a force of nature, and we were really grateful to have her, because it was a real hunt. 

At this point, the Fox Searchlight rep signals that I'm running out of time.

TO: The gentlemen is telling me that I have two minutes left. So, it looks like I need to speed things up now...

SM: Because you had a bad start, I'll give you 2 extra minutes on-top of the 2 minutes left.

TO: [Laughter] You're too kind. You're too kind... So... Are you aware of, or do you pay attention to the larger conversation taking place about Steve McQueen as the filmmaker, as the artist, or...

SM: No, no, not at all [immediate and definite, shaking his head decisively].

TO: Ok, I'll just move on from that [laughter]. But as a filmmaker or artist of African descent, and as someone - myself - who writes about filmmakers of African descent, since that's my website's focus, I can say that there aren't many black filmmakers, or filmmakers period, of your ilk. 

SM: Sure, sure.

TO: So do you think of yourself in this space as a significant, important artist, filmmaker...

SM: No, no. [again, immediate and definite, shaking his head decisively]. Not at all. 

The Fox Searchlight rep walks in to tell me that my time is up. Steve McQueen interrupts.

SM: [to the Fox Searchlight rep] We'll give him 2 more minutes.

Fox Searchlight rep acknowleges and exits.

SM: Um, I don't think of myself in any sort of context like that, far from it. I wouldn't dare. 

TO: So your blackness, or African-ness, if I can say that, doesn't at all influence the decisions and choices you make as an artist.

SM: No, no. Never has. I don't dare think in that way. I wouldn't dare. 

TO: Ok, I'd love to dive a bit more into that, but I know my time is up, so I'll squeeze whatever else I can in. So, everyone wants to know what's next for Steve McQueen. With Hunger, Shame, and now 12 Years A Slave, you tackle these sort of transgressive subjects, and do so in a way that's also transgressive, we could say. Films and a filmmaking style and approach that most others would shy away from. In the USA anyway, especially in mainstream. Any plans for a Steve McQueen comedy, or a Steve McQueen horror movie, Steve McQueen thriller, etc.

SM: You say "Steve McQueen" but I'm not of any interest. You say "Steve McQueen comedy," "Steve McQueen this or that." I'm not a brand. I'm not any kind of institution. I'm a filmmaker. That's what I try to do. I try to do the best I can. And that's it, really.

TO: You may not think of yourself as someone of interest, or as a brand, but, come on, you're the man of the hour. You may not pay attention, but there is a conversation being had about "Steve McQueen," the filmmaker, the artist. Maybe not all over America, but your name carries certain expectations with the audiences who appreciate your work. We've come to expect certain things from a Steve McQueen film.

SM: I don't think of myself like that, so I'm not even interested in having that conversation. Not out of disrespect, but I don't see myself like that. I just see myself as a guy who's trying to make a film or, make art. I don't really get into that. It's not my bag. I just try to do the best I can, and that's it. You know. I'm not that interesting of a person. 

TO: [Laughter] You're not?

SM: What I hope is that what I make is of interest. 

TO: Understood. But to go back to what I initially wanted to know, is that, you're interested in tackling all kinds of subjects, in all genres, right?

SM: Sure, yes, of course.

TO: Ok, and can you let us know what you're considering doing next.

SM: I'm interested in doing a musical actually.

TO: Oh really? That's interesting. Any ideas on...

SM: I don't know what. Not yet.

TO: Ok. That's it. Thank you very much sir, I really appreciate the time.

SM: My absolute pleasure. 

TO: Thank you.

Thanks to Steve McQueen for the time. 

Fox Searchlight opens 12 Years A Slave today, October 18, in an initial limited release, in NYC and LA, before expanding nationwide.

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  • stilladvance | December 10, 2013 7:04 AMReply

    honestly, that was a dissapointing interview. sounded like you had a bone to pick, which is fine, but instead of moving the interview along, it became this odd kind of tussle between you both, which didnt really get anywhere. he was evasive, and you looked like you were badgering him almost. a shame, cos i like this this blog a lot. the film is over praised, and it is flawed, but it is also deserving in many ways. he/it just gets over scrutinised because there are few other black filmmakers in his position and any film about black slavery from a black director is going to get scrutinised to death by anyone interested in those subjects. hes got a lot of pressure on him.

  • Tonja | October 25, 2013 11:39 AMReply

    Its really AGGRAVATING that this film has not been released for everyone to see. The industry decries so-called 'boot-leg' copies (and usually I do too) but releases like this make them VERY VERY attractive.

  • anon | October 24, 2013 11:56 AMReply

    You can come to a director like spike lee like that, critique him etc becuase blk people MADE him they supported him from word GO but noone blk made steve mqueen he had sucess in england BEFORE he came to the US as an artist and now as a film maker he doesnt oh AA's a thing!

  • dl | October 24, 2013 11:47 AMReply

    Wow the reason I beleieve he was so brisk is that he is not used to being asked these questions. the fact is that most of his audience and the journalists that he is interviewed by are WHITE!
    He is not used to being interrogated by blks especially AA'S who have a dfifferent sensibilty to black europeans i.e much more upfront about race and differeent ex[ectations of a Black director. Although, he has never said he is a "black "director he is a director who happens to be blk. He will never wear his colour on his sleeve and besides why does he have to? it would not beneficial for his career seing that blk people are NOT financing his movies. Tambey i'm sad to say was out of his depth with this guy becuase he's NOT african american and therefore he is not going to feel "guilty" about not catering to a miniscule audience (in the broader scheme of things) that does not pay his wages- he has no reason to.

  • Cameron | October 22, 2013 12:58 AMReply

    Wow! I wish I'd be there in person for this. I wish this was videotaped. Reading it I can tell that body language between the two of you must have added even more to the whole thing. I just imagine you sitting on opposite sides of a desk, staring each other down LOL. Well Tambay, no matter what anyone says, one thing you can for sure count on is that Steve McQueen will definitely not forget you and if you ever get the chance to interview him again, now that will be interesting! I can just imagine you walking into the interview room, and McQueen looks at you and right away, light bulbs go off in his head, and he'll probably be thinking, 'I remember you! You again, you sonofabitch!' LOL! And then you'll both hug it out and that second interview will be much more fun. So as far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished, not that that is what you set out to do. But I bet he won't right away remember all the people who interviewed him before and after you, asking the same old generic questions he's answered a million times. Keep doing it the way you're doing it bruh! With 95 comments below mine, no matter what they say, obviously you're doing something right. Peace.

  • JANA SANTE | October 19, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    The antagonisms that transpired here were a joy to behold (sorry Tambay. Clearly it wasn't the easiest of exchanges but hat-tip to you for delivering an enthralling interview. If only you'd gotten 2+ minutes on top of the bonus 2. It was really starting to marinate beautifully when you got the issue of 'Blackness'- Damn it!!!)

  • CareyCarey | October 19, 2013 10:11 AMReply

    A bitter taste has been left in my mouth. That's right, after reading all the comments (for a second time) and re-reading my last conversation with T-Nails, I've come to the conclusion that Tambay has been falsely accused of committing some type of nondescript error. So let me explain.

    This caught my eye--> "and also being cognizant of his temperament - it was clear to me that I had to be well-prepared, given that I would be asking a few questions that would likely be considered criticisms of the film and the filmmaker."

    Bingo! That DOES NOT sound like a man who was unprepared, nor someone who was on a subversive mission. It's plan to me that Tambay was well-prepared... and knew McQueen may not welcome his line of questions. That proved to be true--> STEVE MCQUEEN: [short silence] "You're the first person to ask me that question".

    Well-well-well, Steve admitted that he wasn't accustom to answering that type of non-cookie cutter, untraditional type of questions, and thus, immediately started dancing around the flag pole. Now Tambay was well aware of Steve's evasive technique (he does live in New York, he has seen it all) so, determine to have Steve address his concerns in a more direct fashion, he pushed forward. But wait, is this the point in the "interview" where some are suggesting Tambay should have bowed down to the new king? Well, I don't think so, and neither did Tambay. He knew this dude may not get his hair cut tight, with a bald fade (or even go to the barber shop) he puts his pants on just like him. And, when someone is obviously playing the nut role (some would call it feigning ignorance) most men take that as an affront to their intelligence (and in some cases their manhood) so Tambay could not (and shouldn't be expect to) let Steve off the hook. So Tambay came back--> "I just noticed at the end when he is finally reunited with his family - that's only when I realized that it had indeed been 12 years."

    Upon hearing that response, Steve still didn't believe fat meat was greasy, so he tried to slip Tambay another ambiguous side-step which gave the appearance of talking down S&A's editor, or trying to intimidate him. Check this out --> McQueen replies, " Well, that's just not sophisticated. Putting onto the screen every single year"

    What?! Negro please, what's not sophisticated... the fact that your 12 years felt like one year? Or, is it not sophisticated enough for you to admit you dropped the ball?

    Listen, in a nutshell, that's the crux of this "dispute". McQueen wasn't accustomed to being challenged by another black man who saw straight through his evasive ways. So BAM, he went into attack mode, but Tambay wasn't having it. In fact, in the unedited version Tambay can he heard telling McQueen "Listen here nappyhead, I ain't scared of you motherf**ker... this is my goddamn city, so sit up and act like you have some damn sense".

    Yep, in short, the "fault" (if there is any) does not rest at Tambay's door.

  • Johnnie MD | October 21, 2013 5:03 PM

    I completely agree with you CareyCarey.

  • Welp | October 19, 2013 2:51 PM

    Yes it does.

  • NO BRAINER | October 19, 2013 2:33 AMReply

    "In my experience. [short silence] You've come in, and unfortunately, your research is not particularly good." -- Steven McQueen

    Well, for the record, Tambay usually try to state facts that are sometimes in accurate, making it appear as if he doesn't do his research. But to Tambay's credit he admits when he is wrong when stood corrected.

  • T Nails | October 18, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    As someone who has worked on "Shame" and witnessed how Steve McQueen works, I feel Mr. Tambay, you truly missed an opportunity to give the readers of indiewire some insight on how a true artist manages to makes films with integrity in today's relentlessly commercial market. You are interviewing a man who's not only gifted but passionate about his craft. Film crew such as myself, take pay cuts and clear our decks to work with someone of his caliber. It's exceedingly more difficult to make a living in independent film as it was during the "DVD / Shooting Gallery Years". So we as crew make material sacrifices for spiritual and professional satisfaction. We expect a similar level of preparation, passion and professionalism on your end.

    The fact that there is considerably more text of you talking than SM, speaks volumes. You also seemed fixated on issues that would interest a gossip or racial activist rag than those I hope Indiewire still serves (people interested in filmmakers). Steve McQueen will make films his way and that is next to impossible these days. Whether you like his films or not, he's one of the few truly independent voices in film.

    Why did you seem to show no interest in approaching him about filmmaking? Nothing about how he runs a set, stages a scene, composes a shot, auditions talent, or the difficulties in making this film. You want to get real insights into a man, any man, ask them questions about work. Ultimately their answers say much more about them than their job.

    SM is not an expert on hype/brand nor cares a wit about representing his people. So you won't get superficial answers speaking about himself in the third person or prefaced with "as a black man....". But you will get excellent answers about how it was working with union technicians, locations in Louisiana, casting names for budget, casting no names (Lupita), how he works with talent for best performance, why he does so few takes and very little coverage (we went into overtime just once on "Shame"), how does a much bigger budget / cast effect his method, what does working with Bobbit, his DP, impacts his films, why he refuses to shoot on digital and stays with film, and so on.

    Get a man to talk about what he does for a living, you'll get a glimpse of his soul. Ask him about his soul, he'll say he has "two minutes left".

  • artbizzy | October 19, 2013 2:24 PM

    Wow, did you really just quote Andy Warhol, Holden Caulfield? Next you'll post a picture of Marcel Duchamp's urinal and say that's the state of commercial cinema. Well, I guess you'd have a point, lol. Need is relative. We need food, water, etc. But I wouldn't quite be who I am today (and I like who I am ) without some pieces of art and cinema that I feel have expanded my consciousness even a little bit just like "Cather In the Rye' may have for you.

  • Holden Caufield | October 19, 2013 1:33 PM

    A artist chooses the most commercial of all mediums and manages to fool all those around him that this is more than a commercial project based on another man's life for which he receives renumeration.

    An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have
    Andy Warhol

    If we were all true artists who would we get rich off of. You phonies.

  • AJW | October 18, 2013 4:42 PMReply

    CareyCarey said: "Listen, I am not a screenwriter (nor a seasoned writer, by any stretch of imagination) but again, having read the book, I can't help but believe this story, this movie could have been a greater event had the writer and director chosen different chapters, different scenes, different details to highlight. "

    CC, so what you're saying is that you wanted the same plot telling a different story.
    And that's just the thing.
    A different story is also what Tambay would have wanted (at least that's what I'm getting from his posts)
    And, true, a different story is what I would have liked too.
    However... this is not our movie. It's McQueen's.

    A while ago someone here said "must every black movie be everything to everybody?"
    You could ask the same thing about slavery themed films: must every slave movie be everything to everybody?
    Steve McQueen chose those segments from the narrative that spoke most to him - given his background, life experiences, education and level of familiarity with the subject of slavery. Naturally, his choice of material and subsequent treatment of matters has not been what others would have picked.
    Personally, I thought someone with West Indian roots like McQueen would jump to the chance to show the prevalence (and successes) of black resistance in slavery (inspired, as I imagine him to be, by the story of West Indian Maroons). But of course I'm only thinking that, because I have West Indian roots myself and a resistance-themed story is what I have dedicated myself to for the past few years.
    Alas, McQueen chose to use his camera differently. Obviously, what speaks to one writer, does not speak to another.

    Also, as Tambay pointed out previously, no other film compares to 12 Years in terms of topic.
    Amistad comes close, but Amistad was more about the American lawyer than the African slaves. There no yardstick for slave movies. Then again, perhaps 12 Years is the beginning of such. In all honesty, even though I would have preferred a different treatment of Northup's story, I'd say 12 Years is a good enough start.

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 10:26 PM

    "The movie relies on shock, because that is precisely the main emotion a person experiences when first delving into the subject of slavery. And novice audiences relate to the shocking material"

    Good point. The numerous comments defending McQueen's use of shocking imagery will attest to that.

    "For reasons that go beyond the scope of this discussion, the Holocaust-genre has had ample amount of time to develop, allowing for a myriad of different explorations"

    Again, yes, that's so true. When I read that comment I immediately thought of The Pianist, The Reader and The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas - off the top of my head. Although all of those film are of the Holocaust genre, and most assuredly had scenes of death and violence, that is not what comes to my mind when I think about the brilliance of those films. But for some strange reason when we (I'll say we because I'm also guilty) when we think of slavery, the first images that comes to mind are slaves in some form of torture.

    Now we're back to Tambay. He suggested there are other stories set in the slavery era that are yet to be told and should be told. I don't know (don't remember) if that suggestion was met with open arms?

  • AJW | October 18, 2013 8:27 PM

    Funny that you should mention Schindler's List.
    As I was driving my car a few hours ago, shortly after reading this post and these comments, including yours, I continued to think about 'yardsticks' and 'comparisons', and exactly that film of Steven Spielberg's came to my mind. Schindler's List is definitely a defining piece in the Holocaust-genre.

    At the risk of sounding incredibly presumptuous, I am going to say that the makers of 12 Years a Slave spent a relative short time studying slavery prior to making this movie.
    The movie relies on shock, because that is precisely the main emotion a person experiences when first delving into the subject of slavery. And novice audiences relate to the shocking material, because (in time spent thinking about slavery) they're at the same level as the film's makers.

    Let's face it: most people do not spent years thinking about slavery. The few who do, usually do so because of some academic task. Very few, if any of us, grew up thinking about slavery every single day. As a result, movies and novels about the subject often explore the obvious, rarely presenting anything new. They rely on shock.

    And that's where the Holocaust-genre is different.
    I bet Steven Spielberg has spent his whole youth and adulthood thinking about the Holocaust. No wonder, given his family's background. This means that his philosophy on the matter has had time to mature. He grew past the initial sense of shock. His thoughts evolved, he went on to explore deeper themes such as characters, their motivations and personal conflicts. He digested.

    For reasons that go beyond the scope of this discussion, the Holocaust-genre has had ample amount of time to develop, allowing for a myriad of different explorations.
    The slave-genre, unfortunately, seems to get a jump-start every so many years, only to die off again. But who knows, with Django and 12 Years and Toussaint in our recent past, perhaps more film makers will get the opportunity to tell stories about this era - so we slowly may come to see movies (and novels) that go beyond the cliches.

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 6:22 PM

    AJW, in simple terms you're absolutely right, this is McQueen's film.It's his interpretation/presentation of Northup's book. Again, credit to Mr. McQueen, when one reads the book and see's the film, they soon realize he followed the book chapter by chapter, barely missing a beat. So the plot and story would stay the same (a kidnapped free man telling the story of his past life and his life as a slave).

    So, McQueen didn't really choose a different narrative per se, he merely lingered on, highlighted and/or embellished particular aspect of each chapter. For instance, the book/story starts with Northup's heritage. His father, for example, was a slave who gained his name and his freedom from the will of his deceased master. McQueen picks up the story when Northup is in his thirties, but Northup tells his story from when he was a young kid.

    So yes, I guess I am saying, although I couldn't have told a different "story" (because it's a true story from the mouth of the slave who happens to be the author of the book) I would have liked to have seen more details of each character's life. When I say that, I immediately think of Schindlers List. There was certainly violence, brutality and death in that film, but not at the expense of minimizing the story and depth of Oscar Schindler.

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 11:14 AMReply

    When I grow up I wannabe just like Tambay, so I think I'll start today. I mean, since we're on the eve of this great event, Tambay decided to repost his spirited and contentious interview with Steve McQueen, so I 'm going to get my roll out by reposting my thoughts on the matter at hand.

    Yes, I'm trolling... sue me. :o

    The big day has arrived, everyone can now see Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave.

    The scratch lines have been drawn with Armond White arrogantly standing on one side with a chip on his shoulder. I am more than sure there will be those who will gladly oppose the gladiator with the razor blades and sharp pen. When the dust settles, I doubt we'll see traitors crossing the battle line to join forces with the opposing camps. Those who have a predisposition to champion this film and those who dislike everything about the contrarian mudslinger, will hold their battle lines (humans generally do not change unless their backs are against the wall). And, it has been said that the four most difficult words for humans to say are, I was wrong, I love you, I don't know and I am sorry. So I doubt we will see any of those words spoken in this forum.

    Hey, I have seen the movie and read the book (it is on-line and its an easy read which can be read in a day) and I've run my mouth excessively on what I thought of the film.

    "Yes the f*ck you have Carey, you raghead, lawn jockey, country hick, CrazyCarey, so what's new?"

    Anyway, before the dust clears, let me explain my position one-more-time :)

    Having read the book and seen the film and read Armond's review, I have to agree with his position that McQueen's version of Solomon Northup's journey weighed a wee bit too heavy on shock and horror. The book (about 300 pages) did not have the tone of horror nor were there vivid descriptions of rape and mutilation. Mr. McQueen's depiction of those events were manifested in his own mind. Why did he choose to go there? Well, only his hairdresser knows for sure, but some folks need that type of shock and awe in their movie watching experience. And some folks believe it's a necessary evil in order to show the true horrors of slavery. To that shortsighted opinion, I have to borrow a phrase from a song written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and recorded by the Philly soul musical group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: "If You Don't Know Me By Now"... you will never ever know me! In essence, no one will learn anything new by watching this film. So really, why did Steve McQueen chose to focus on the violent aspects of Northup's book?

    Well, again, I don't know, I can alone assume that he knows what sells best. But I do know, in fairness to the director, he was true to the book in the sense that he followed the book to a tee, chapter after chapter. However, the devil's in the details that he chose to highlight, and conversely, those he chose to leave out. Listen, I am not a screenwriter (nor a seasoned writer, by any stretch of imagination) but again, having read the book, I can't help but believe this story, this movie could have been a greater event had the writer and director chosen different chapters, different scenes, different details to highlight.

    Having said all the above and in my more spirited previous comments, I give the film a 7 1/2. It was entertaining. And, some of the actors may hear their names called during next year's awards season.

    And.... I agree with Tambay and the below comments from JTC, KEV, BE FREE, Nadia, Curtis and BB.

  • Burp | October 18, 2013 10:35 AMReply

    I think the mistake folks make is that they fail to realize that most artist do not like being defined. They would rather tell you who they are instead of you telling them what you think they are no matter how well versed you may think you are in black film snobbery.

  • Rocket | October 18, 2013 2:26 PM

    Is it about the artists or the art they create? I get that artists don't like being pinned down. But their art is separate from them. Once art is created it takes on a life of its own. And when it is consumed the consumer then defines that art the way they want. No artist can control the way their art is consumed and interpreted.

  • Dede | October 11, 2013 7:37 PMReply

    Quote from Donella: "Tambay, based on this transcript, it does appear that you approached the subject of the interview with a personal agenda, and maybe a chip on your shoulder."

    Exactly Donella!

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 10:57 PM

    T-Nails, I've read your above comment and this smaller version... and I have no rebuttal. :)

    You've worked with McQueen so it's safe to say you're privy to a deeper understanding of the man than we are. But wait, on second thought, is it fair to accuse Tambay of dropping the ball or having an "agenda", when in fact, he only had 10 minutes to get in and get out.

    Granted, if one had the time to broach the subjects/questions on your list, we may have gained a deeper insight into a man few know little about. But really, in ten minutes at his disposal, I believe Tambay chose a path that he thought (based on the comments and feedback on this blog) would be of the most interest to his readers. Granted, "they" (Tambay & Steve) got a little hung-up, but hey, sh*t happens :)

  • T Nails | October 18, 2013 8:52 PM

    Carey, I understand you feel Tambay was sticking to his guns so to speak. In doing so, the interview said far more about him than SM. As a journalist, unless you have an agenda, you job is to give us insight to your subject. Tambay failed on that account. It told me aside from spoilers (disregard for the readers) that he did very little homework on McQueen and his even less understanding or interest in what truly defines an artist - their craft.

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 12:07 PM

    @ 1KID2LUV, since I AM NOT as gracious as you characterized McQueen as being, but one who knows that the psychologist profession is the gutter bowl of the medical field which is generally reserved for phase outs who didn't have what it takes to become real doctors of medicine, I have to say a few things in opposition to your opinion of Tambay.

    I am also a film buff who btw, has read every single article Tambay has posted on this site. And, I was here before he joined IndieWire... AND, I've read many of his articles from his previous blog The Obenson Report. So with a bit of knowledge on my side, please forgive my uncouth vernacular as I tell you to GTFOOH with the BS.

    I mean, what agenda (if you're using that word in a negative connotation) are you suggesting Tambay had in his back pocket? I believe he was simply asking a question that was weighing heavily on his mind. Listen, he knew going in that his time was limited, and he has made it clear that he had serious concerns about the film, so as Aretha Franklin advised, he decided to "Jump-Jump-Jump to it". Also, you have to understand (if you're a part time visitor) that S&A is not your father's Oldsmobile. Everyone in the crew brings a different, and one could say, a non-traditional approach to this unique and one of kind place where black folks (and some whites) come to get the their Cinema of The African Diaspora on. To that point, Tambay was not harboring a secret agenda, he was simply doing what he has always done on a continual basis, that is, do him and not kowtow to popular opinions... and I love that in him.

  • 1kid2luv | October 18, 2013 11:03 AM

    I was thinking the same thing. Some kind of agenda, or even -- and this is my observation as a psychologist who happens to be a film buff -- you may have seriously been triggered on a deeper level by this film. That was evident in many of your "I" statements: "but I really wanted to feel the oppression over that lengthy passage of time, and not necessarily anything overt" and "and I wanted to feel the weight of oppression of time, and, I just didn't feel that." It was difficult to read this transcript. McQueen used the right word: bizarre. But he's a gracious person. I would have asked you to leave.

  • CareyCarey | October 11, 2013 1:42 PMReply

    I hate when smart people show how smart they are! Yes it's true! It reminds me how far i have to go. So what!!! the only black filmmaker who should have his nuts worshipped is Tyler Perry. And that is my job first and foremost! So there!

  • CareyCarey | October 19, 2013 8:58 PM

    Thank you Troy,

    I have an idea who's using my name but I can't say for sure. Well, based on his usage of Tyler Perry in most of his gag lines and when he appears, I believe it the reader known as Carl. But I love him. He brings back fond memories of the easy carefree days of grade school.

  • Troy | October 19, 2013 12:41 PM

    Those beginning troll classes are paying off for someone. First though you must capture the voice of the person you are imitating and then evissorate them with their own logic.

  • Donella | October 11, 2013 1:17 PMReply

    Tambay, based on this transcript, it does appear that you approached the subject of the interview with a personal agenda, and maybe a chip on your shoulder.

  • David | October 11, 2013 12:28 PMReply

    This writer is obviously trying to instigate something. If you can't stand out by your exceptional writing or insight, I guess you can just try being a dick...

  • RAMIIE | October 10, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    I think you are wrong. Steve is not rude, but impatient with being asked really, really dumb questions. And I must admit, as a journalist myself I cringed at the foolishly persistent and embarrassingly naive questions put by this interviewer. I mean:

    TO: Ok, I'll just move on from that [laughter]. But as a filmmaker or artist of African descent, and as someone - myself - who writes about filmmakers of African descent, since that's my website's focus, I can say that there aren't many black filmmakers, or filmmakers period, of your ilk.

    SM: Sure, sure.

    TO: So do you think of yourself in this space as a significant, important artist, filmmaker...

    Should Steve so early in his career self-dub himself a "significant, important artist and filmmaker"????


    And the other question:

    TO: So your blackness, or African-ness, if I can say that, doesn't at all influence the decisions and choices you make as an artist?

    This is surely a non-sequitur in context, but more annoyingly is he saying that as a journalist his blackness influences how he chooses to structure an article???

    This is the kind of dumb ass line of thinking that too many black critics get tied up in...and I am not saying that because I am defending Steve because I am a Brit Grenadian like him.

  • Troy | October 19, 2013 12:38 PM

    Just a joke the debate in the comments section seems to be about who is the bigger female dog. Both of them seem to be all bark no bite. Tambay I would've lived to read this transcript with you massaging the vagina first and then tear it up.

  • Troy | October 19, 2013 12:35 PM

    So you have never seen a sports or political press conference? They ask the same questions over and over again. I was Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and Andrea Kramer asked me the same questions over and over. The interviews lasted 3 and half hours and they only included 2 sound bites from me. Granted one of them was used in the marketing if the program. However all human interactions are a dance of sorts. When you Dance with the Stars it is funny when the least famous get the most scrutiny. Their are ways to influence people. Maybe Tambay should of had a man interview McQueen, because two women dancing looks very awkward.

  • Agent K | October 18, 2013 2:51 PM

    @Lottie I'm not saying that is a reason but he could work on being in the public eye a bit more.

  • Lottie | October 12, 2013 7:36 PM

    @Agent K, that's a stupid reason to stop making films. One dumb interviewer shouldn't stop your show.

  • Agent K | October 11, 2013 1:14 PM

    @Lottie But if he's gonna continue that he might as well stop making films right now.

  • Lottie | October 11, 2013 12:16 PM

    "Answering questions, even so-called "dumb" questions, comes with the territory."

    Having one interviewer keep talking about the same question/comment is really abnormal, though. I can see how that might frustrate someone at a junket.

  • Rocket | October 11, 2013 11:39 AM

    "Steve is not rude, but impatient with being asked really, really dumb questions."
    Answering questions, even so-called "dumb" questions, comes with the territory. He is promoting a film. The film deals with a difficult topic and has some gut wrenching scenes according to those who saw it. So people are going to ask questions that my be difficult or unorthodox. Is there some pre-approved list of questions that journalists and critics must choose from before interviewing McQueen? Dude looks like a diva here.

    At least Spike Lee waited until he got a string of classics under his belt before becoming an ass. McQueen wants to start burning his bridges early.

  • Agent K | October 10, 2013 10:41 PM

    Can you do better?

  • banta | October 10, 2013 12:39 PMReply

    he sounds like an asshole. comes off very - um unpleasant. makes me not really want to see this film actually. you did a good job, tambay.

  • britgirlnz | October 9, 2013 6:29 PMReply

    @befree yes i would say he is a great artist
    feel like some people have only heard of him because of his most recent work - which to be fair as a brit I had access to his work sooner than maybe most

  • britgirlnz | October 9, 2013 6:32 PM

    Tate gallery has a good profile on him can seem to link from here,

  • Dede | October 9, 2013 8:27 AMReply

    TO: So your blackness, or African-ness, if I can say that, doesn't at all influence the decisions and choices you make as an artist.

    SM: No, no. Never has. I don't dare think in that way. I wouldn't dare.
    I think he means that he doesn't want his work and the audience to think that everything is filtered thru blackness or his black experience. Of course it's going to slip thru somewhere. But I think he's fighting through a box that's being formed around him. That's understandable. Any story he writes or adapts has to be told honestly without any bias in order for the truth to shine though. I think he's looking to the human condition and showcase how different experiences are connected. I see this movie as a prison trilogy. I remember reading that some didn't like the way the guards were portraying in Hunger. It would be a less powerful movie if McQueen didn't show the routine of the guards and how their jobs affect people get pulled into something just trying to feed their families. That's more powerful. I can see how people can find themselves doing terrible things and following orders. Many of those people following orders and doing their job will get drunk on power and that creates a huge monster. I am reminded of The Milgram Experiment when I think of that angle included in the Hunger.

    Most artist are sensitive about their work . I'm sure he wants to dig deeper into Solomon's story and character study of all involved rather than focus on him something like slavery becomes normal like and what that does to the psyche. This story is a great choice because in brings in a free person who hasn't experienced slavery. Like the Sissy character in Shame, there's a shakeup...a door into a world that is business as usual. Everyone reacts to Solomon because they're confronted with his intellect and humanity. The slavers are reminded of the lies told to continue this institution and suffer the sting of that dichotomy. You can't display that with a pure evil angle. Yeah, it's an evil practice but who are these people. Let's dig into that with a true story. Not with anger.

    I see all 3 movies as a trilogy of prisons...freedom and dignity.

    P.S. Thank you Kev, Kell and Be Free! SMH

  • Dede | October 12, 2013 4:17 PM

    I meant to say thank you NOT to Be Free! Big mistake

  • JTC | October 9, 2013 3:28 AMReply

    To begin with full disclosure, I enjoyed Steve McQueen's first two films and I can't wait to see 12 YEARS A SLAVE.

    Having stated that, I deeply enjoy the work of Akira Kurosawa and Andrei Tarkovsky. I don't enjoy the work of David Lynch and Lars Von Trier (with the exception of Dogville), and I go half and half for the work of Spike Lee and Terrence Malick. I write this because all of these directors have achieved significant levels of critical acclaim (though Spike has his detractors obviously) thus I have failed in regards to respecting the opinions of the critics.

    I recognize that there is something of a hype machine which is starting to build around Steve McQueen, but I find it problematic when there is a suggestion that certain "taste makers" declare a filmmaker worthy and "the rest of us fall in line." I can't stand David Lynch, but when others tell me that they love his films (and many people do) I don't understand why. I see a certain perverse creativity. He just doesn't do it for me. However, I don't assume that they like him because they were told to. Something to consider. To each their own.

    In regards to his response which suggests that his African-ness doesn't influence decisions as a filmmaker, I've got to call foul on this one. It is not possible for any artist not to be influenced by their lived experience, whether by gender, age, class, and yes, race. His answer actually surprised me, but I wonder if it reflects the fact that I have known a considerable amount of non AA black people who try to avoid dealing with the strange complexity of American racialism. I would have loved to hear him expound on this.

  • DJ | October 9, 2013 11:12 AM

    Artmaking in today's age is 90% marketing and 10% backslapping among the creative plutocrats who give stamps of credibility and then expect the rest, as you say, to "fall in line." But same goes for academia, politics... virtually every industry.

  • kell | October 9, 2013 3:27 AMReply

    I haven't seen the movie as of yet, but I have watched other interviews with SM. Those interviews led me to believe that his publicity team needs to work with him due to the fact he'll certainly be interviewed from now until Oscar season.
    So, I went into this article thinking you would be fair yet ready and willing to still ask the questions. But this interview is an exact example of what an interviewer should not do. I came away thinking this was more of an interrogation rather than an interview.

    TO, you may be right about what you felt after the movie, won't know it until I see it, but you went into this interview looking for a fight and almost got one. Thank goodness it seems SM publicity team has worked with him cause quite frankly... he made you look petty.

  • BluTopaz | October 9, 2013 5:15 PM

    Something tells me McQueen doesn't give a flip about the Oscars.

  • KEV | October 9, 2013 3:13 AMReply

    Oh. My. GOD. Reading this interview and many of these comments is enough to make a sane person hurl himself off a cliff (and type in ALL CAPS).

    It is a movie about the 12 YEARS IN A SLAVE'S LIFE and exception is taken with a question about whether or not the length ie. gravity of those 12 years of slavery were portrayed/felt by the viewer?
    Not to mention it is a movie about SLAVERY directed by a BLACK MAN in a RARE POSITION in one of THE MOST SEGREGATED/RACIST INDUSTRIES IN THE WORLD (still in 2013) and further exception is taken with him being asked how his race influences him?!?

    Jesus, I really just don't know where to start. And I won't.

    "Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."


  • Be Free | October 9, 2013 12:39 AMReply

    All this talk about Steve McQueen being a "true artist" is grating on my nerves! As opposed to what? A fake artist. Do folks even know what they mean when they say shit like that? There are a lot of artists in this business, and everybody's got their own voice, style and film language. McQueen is another one of many. The main difference with him is that he's black! If he were white, he'd just be another white "enfant terrible" like Lars Von Trier or Harmony Korine. We won't care as much. But he's black and he's in a very rare position. He's been deemed an "important" filmmaker by the taste makers and the rest of us fall in line. Name another black filmmaker who's so loved by white critics and moviegoers. Whose films are filling up screening rooms at major festivals like Cannes and Toronto. They've embraced him like no other. There's nothing wrong with that, but let's end with this "true artist" shite. And also the "great artist" shite. Why is he such a "great artist"? He's made 3 films. 2 of which we've seen. One that's coming. The first one was an experiment that passed the critics test and that I'll admit was interesting, but still cold and distant. The second one was really just your basic drama with some NC17 sex scenes. Take those out and you've got a basic drama about a dude with issues. We've seen that before. But we've also seen NC17 sex scenes before. The film was way over-rated! And then you've got a very conventional drama about slavery. I saw it at Toronto and it's also over-rated. Why is he a "great artist"? Based on what exactly? He still has to prove himself IMHO. "Do The Right Thing" was much more powerful than anything McQueen's done to date. Stop falling all over yourselves to lick his toes. He's ok in my book, but the hype machine is working overtime with this one. Some people want to make sure he succeeds and we give him a pass on shit. And I don't buy any of that shit about him not being aware of the conversations that are being had about him. Please. First he argues that he's read reviews and that only some of them are talking about the brutality of the film, but then a few questions later, he says, "oh no, I don't read any of what is said about me, because I'm too much of a true artist to get caught up in what other people are saying." And nobody caught that contradiction? SMH.

  • CareyCarey | October 11, 2013 1:33 PM

    But hey, then again, I'm a complete idiot who licks the boots of those who exploit us so what do I know?

  • CareyCarey | October 9, 2013 6:18 PM

    ...and Mr. LOL you're obviously an eggplant who doesn't know it's not wise to use absolutes. To that point, only a fool would let your silly accusation fall from their mouth. Listen, most of S & A's staff are good at what they do and speak intelligently, and I've never insinuated that Tambay, Tanya Steele, Andre Seewood, Sergio or anyone in the crew were stuck-up. In fact, I've never said Spike Lee, Lee Daniels or Tyler Perry were stuck-up. And, there are hundreds of black actors, directors and producers who speak well and are good at what they do, yet I've never called them stuck-up.

    On the other hand, this new black fellow who some are protecting, licking his nut sack and treating with kid glove, gives off a vibe of a stuck-up prick who 's reading his own positive press clippings - while implying he's above anything related to racial issues. All that to say, I don't know about you, but in my book he's a quintessential stuck-up snob who's running from his blackness.

  • Rocket | October 9, 2013 12:24 PM

    I feel where BE FREE is coming from. I am glad McQueen is getting some shine. He appears to have his own voice and I am interested in seeing where he goes from here. At the same time posters here are acting like he can't be questioned about his work. People are giving him a pass for being an ass because he is an "artist" and is above it all.

    Tambay's question about the passage of time was a legitimate. His question about McQueen's "blackness" affecting his work was legitimate as well. Shadow and Act is a site that focuses on the African diaspora. Why would anyone be surprised at Tambay asking that question? That question is consistent with the theme of this site. McQueen is not above criticism.

  • Airt | October 9, 2013 11:15 AM

    @Carl ... Er, it's McQueen who is the hack par excellence.

  • lol | October 9, 2013 10:50 AM

    Every time someone is good at what they do or speaks intelligently, CareyCarey calls them stuck up.

  • Carl | October 9, 2013 2:56 AM


    BE QUIET. If some feel he is a true artist who the hell are you to tell them otherwise? You sound like another jealous hack who's mad that McQueen is getting attention YOU feel YOU deserve.

    We have seen it before on this blog. So take a Midol and sit your whiney behind down. We will cheer for whoever the hell we want. thanks.

  • CareyCarey | October 9, 2013 1:15 AM

    Miss Be Free, you get my MLK award for taking a stand that's rarely seen here at S&A. Well, maybe I shouldn't say "rarely" seen, but your position on this issue; Steve McQueen, his movies and his stuck-up attitude, is not a common voice around here. But we need your fearless voice of wisdom, and your ability to see through what others have so blindly accepted. So my hat is tipped in your direction as I present to you my Martin Luther King courage award.

    "Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different" MLK

    "one was really just your basic drama with some NC17 sex scenes. Take those out and you've got a basic drama about a [white] dude with issues. We've seen that before. But we've also seen NC17 sex scenes before. The film was way over-rated!" ~ Miss Be Free

    HELLO! AMEN! Oh, but it did have a black woman as one of the perps love interests - for about 10 minutes of the film, so don't ask Steve anything related to race matters because he gets a pass. Please, you can fool some of the people some of the time but...

  • SleepHead4Life | October 9, 2013 12:27 AMReply

    This "article" is a trip. You do come across as presumptive and disrespectful, so I'm not at all surprised by McQueen's reaction. Then you add to the pile on with underhanded comments. Sometimes when people claim they "like" you, they are really vindictive, hateful or jealous and try to sabotage you.

  • What? | October 9, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    Wait, I'm still looking. WHERE is the question?

    I think you misunderstand me. Not that specific. Like I said, nothing overt. Some subtle indications of this passage of time so that one actually feels the weight of 12 long years of oppression. So, no, not ticking off every single year... But, it's slavery era USA, and 12 years have passed from the beginning to the end of the film, and I wanted to feel the weight of oppression of time, and, I just didn't feel that.

  • What? | October 8, 2013 11:59 PMReply

    This is a question?

    "TAMBAY OBENSON (TO): The one thing that really stuck out to me about the film is the passage of time which I didn't quite notice. I think I wanted to feel that 12 years pass, and really feel the weight of the oppression suffered over those 12 years. But, the way the film progressed, and maybe I just missed some cues, it almost felt like it played over just a matter of weeks or even days, as opposed to 12 long years. And Like I said, maybe I missed some cues, but I really wanted to feel the oppression over that lengthy passage of time, and not necessarily anything overt."

  • s_dorsett | October 8, 2013 11:59 PMReply

    Congrats on a really good interview. You pushed the envelope and got some really honest answers. I am shocked he doesn't identify himself as a brand. He uses Fassbender in everything and has particularly the same style. He is an auteur. I think he isn't doing the Spike Lee thing but he should have understood himself to be a brand...hmm. This must be the English way of thinking.

  • julius pryor | October 8, 2013 11:34 PMReply

    A great artist usually equals a huge ego. Im not surprised by any of his responses.

  • karen marie mason | October 8, 2013 11:10 PMReply

    TO: So your blackness, or African-ness, if I can say that, doesn't at all influence the decisions and choices you make as an artist.
    SM: No, no. Never has. I don't dare think in that way. I wouldn't dare.


  • LL2 | October 31, 2013 12:05 AM

    WHY NOT? He is a film maker. That's his job. Why does race have to come into it? I work in healthcare and honestly I don't go around thinking about my race as I work. I just think about the best way to complete my various tasks on time. If someone didn't know my race and saw my work, I doubt they would think a "black person" did this or even care about my race as long as I got the job done.

  • Rocket | October 9, 2013 11:47 AM

    Yeah, I don't believe that line either.

  • britgirlnz | October 8, 2013 10:07 PMReply

    Cringey worthy, I am sure the mood was lighter but it just came across as if you pissed him off, shame as he is an interesting person to hear speak

  • Nikki | October 8, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    I guess I really didn't get the issue with the passage of time. I think the ending hits harder that way. You realize oh wow its been 12 years, I actually dont think the ending would be as emotional if the passage of time was more apparent. That is just my opinion...of course.

  • Curtis | October 8, 2013 6:05 PMReply

    Contrary to what other folks are saying, I think it was good that the passage of time question was asked from the start. Yes it put McQueen on the defense, but I think that was a good thing. He wasn't expecting it and it caught him off guard which is good. I can only imagine how boring these junkets can get especially if you're being asked the same damn set of general questions every body else is asking. So this shook him up a bit and that's fine. But I also believe that he's the artist being interviewed so he should've been ready for any question that was asked, as long as it was reasonable, no matter whether it was asked first, second or third. Who's to say that he wouldn't have reacted the same way if the question was asked last. But he calmed down eventually when he saw that Tambay wasn't there to jump on him. So I think he's cool and everything's cool. Otherwise, it's a good read and a good interview and kinda funny too! Some of y'all just need to chill out. I'm looking at all these trolls who've never commented on this site before.

  • Burp | October 8, 2013 8:57 PM

    It was not conducted as a interview. He it was his opinion on how he interpreted a creative choice. If you are going to do that then the question should have been asked lastly not in the beginning because it set the tone for the entire interview.

  • Vanessa Martinez | October 8, 2013 6:22 PM

    Agree Curtis.. It was an unconventionally awesome interview, hiccups and all.. I'm glad Tambay posted it.

  • scripttease | October 8, 2013 5:28 PMReply

    Yeah, you should've squeezed that passage of time question in towards the end. I don't think he was too upset or else he wouldn't have given you those extra couple of minutes.

  • James | October 8, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    Steve seems to be on top form here. After I finished watching 'Hunger', I knew he'd be a relentless film maker and an uncompromising person regarding his truth.

  • Ladybug | October 8, 2013 4:55 PMReply

    Tambay asked a question that could be construed as negative . . . and McQueen got defensive. I think starting lighter may have been a better idea, but if McQueen's goal is to make art then he needs to know that art is meant to provoke conversation and thoughts. All those thoughts aren't always going to be glowing. The better thing to do would have been to answer the question and moved on. I think too often people expect to sit in the chair and to never be challenged. And as for the batting away questions about blackness . . . that's silly too. Yes you just want to make films, yes you just want to be an artist . . . but you sit in a rarefied place . . . so blackness will always come into conversation about your art . . . especially for a blog that deals with film of the African Diaspora. I also think it's silly to say you are not a brand . . . just because you deny it doesn't mean it's not true. Meryl Streep is a brand . . . we expect impeccable work from her always . . . that's her brand. Sigh!

  • But | October 8, 2013 10:55 PM

    He did answer the question but tambay didnt want to move on

  • Bforreal | October 8, 2013 7:48 PM

    Exactly. You hit the nail on the head. Oh, and Nemesis and BB, you two also make fine points. Well said.

  • bb | October 8, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    In defense of Tambay, McQueen is a bit temperamental in interviews. Not "angry black dude" or any of that nonsense, just very above it all in a way. I honestly believe that he expects others to get on his intelligence level or just be quiet. I've seen him live at a Q&A and he was the same way. It's refreshing but can induce eye-rolling sometimes, in my opinion.

    As someone who's seen the movie twice already, I can say that Tambay isn't off-base in his assessment of the time element. I truly forgot that it had been a 12 year journey for Northrup because it didn't really appear on screen in any significant way (i.e. aging makeup, etc.) until the very end. It didn't stop me from loving the film, though.

  • MK | October 8, 2013 6:20 PM

    Nemisis, exactly my thoughts.

  • Nemesis | October 8, 2013 5:16 PM

    True. I've seen him at a live Q&A too, and dude doesn't play. And, yes, sometimes it can come across as a tad brash and unnecessary.

    To be honest, it seems that the fact that Tambay started with a question that he hadn't been asked before, about something which he'd therefore not had to contemplate or answer for, actually threw him for a loop.

    To suggest that it's unsophisticated that a film with a timescale in the title (12 years) should not somehow be made a little more obvious (even in an artfully visceral way - he's a smart filmmaker, after all), was really just, I think, a knee-jerk reaction to a possible flaw in his film which nobody else had dared point out to him before.

    Tambay did, however, belabour the point a bit, but I think once both their egos backed down, there was mutual respect shown from both sides (hence the extra time granted by SMcQ, even when the PR guy tried to make like the Sandman at the Apollo.

  • Burp | October 8, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    Does not sound like you will get another interview from him.

  • Akimbo | October 8, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    I'll tell you exactly why this interview went the way it did: you started with "here's what I felt was wrong with your movie." The filmmaker responded to that. And then you proceeded to harp on the issue for four or five more questions. It was pretty trolly and would put anyone on the defensive. Was the intent here really to interview him, or just to give him your review in person and document his reaction?

    This was very weird. The interview literally does not begin until the Patsey/Lupita question. Why so aggressive?

  • Jay | October 8, 2013 5:08 PM

    Thank you for saying this! I totally agree. Steve McQueen was put on the defensive from jump. What's up with that?

  • Nadia | October 8, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    LOL! The Steve McQueen Stans are out in full force! "Don't nobody say anything bad about Steve McQueen, nope. Don't nobody..." LOL.

  • David Reeves | October 8, 2013 4:00 PM

    So people agreeing with McQueen makes you upset? What folks aren't allowed? Grow up!

  • Carl | October 8, 2013 3:55 PM

    Steve McQueen is a jerk. There. Feel better. No go back to your hole.

    No for the real people, I love how McQueen handles himself with bullshit.

  • Jeremy | October 8, 2013 3:29 PMReply

    Really, you actually published this? Suggestion: Drop the "I know something you don't" foolishness and hire a real journalist or someone who really can talk about film. Geez, this was so embarrassing.

  • jeni | October 8, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    I respect him for being generous with his time even when things seemed to be headed south. But I get his irritation--no major director on the world stage really wants to answer questions on what it means to be a black director and whether his race contributes to his approach. That angle's been done to death. This new generation of filmmakers wants the dignity of a colorblind assessment of its work. And mentioning his "temperament" probably didn't earn the site any future favors... However, I'd love to know what other questions you had for him.

  • jeni | October 8, 2013 9:01 PM

    @Factchecker: People who are trying to move their art forward are tired of that conversation. I'm sure if you Google Steve McQueen, he's been asked about the role of race in his career SEVERAL times. Lazy white journalists feening for pageviews are looking for a simplified snippet about race to paste at the top of the article to pigeonhole and attract eyeballs. That's why I expect this site to do better than the media norm. Modern auteurs want to talk about what's ON THE SCREEN and the intended impact. His talent is more than skin deep and there are much more important questions to ask. Your perspective is very 20th century.

  • truth | October 8, 2013 6:01 PM


    That is a tired POV. McQueen is not obligated to put his race first. He can answer how he wants. Since you say you know we are not a monolith, why is this so hard for you to understand? I forgot, you expect all those who are black to give others a hand out because they too are black. Pure genius.

  • FactChecker | October 8, 2013 5:51 PM

    @Jeni. Why shouldn't Tambay ask him about race and how it affects, not his filmmaking, per se, but it might affect how he approaches the business and the projects that he chooses. Beside, it's not as if Tambay is alone in asking him this question. ALL of the white journalists writing about this will ask some form or fashion of this as well.

    And you cannot have a "colorblind assessment" of your work when you're one of less than a handful of individuals who has the opportunity to engage in such work at this level. Puhhhleeezze! Wait until both he and Lee Daniels are nominated for best director for the SAG, Golden Globes, DGA, and the Oscars awards events, later this season. We will then see hundreds of articles about how, for the first time in history, TWO black people have been nominated for best director. It's taken 85 years -- 85 years!!! -- for this to occur.

    Only when there's at least three or four black people, consistently, nominated in the larger categories will journalists not have to feel so compelled to ask about the role of race in an artists' life or journey toward success. ... AND, while people's stories may be similar they are also different because we're NOT a monolith. So I, and many others, are interested in hearing about McQueen's specific experience, and thoughts, related to the role of race, and how it impacts his artistry, and how he navigates through the business.

  • CareyCarey | October 8, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    Woe is me, which way should I go? Well... since I have tickets to see this film, this Sunday, I was balking at reading the interview. Then, Ramie's comment hit the board. Oh my, stupid, crappy and pointless series of questions, huh?

    Oh well, I don't know how any questions can be pointless or stupid so I wanted to find out how that works, but again I balked. There I was, stuck between reading a juicy interview and spoiling my upcoming experience. Woe is me, what am gonna do?

    Okay, I think I'll hold out (I'm gonna try) because other than the tidbits in this 12 minute sit down, I am interested in seeing if I fall in the minority crowd with Tambay. I mean, lots of folks loved Lee Daniel's The Butler as much as they loved Wonder Bread's new 1930 product - sliced bread, but I wasn't in that crowd.

    Anyway, it's a done deal, I think I'll pass on reading anything concerning 12 Years A Slave, including this interview, until Monday. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said "I'll be back".

  • Zee | October 8, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    I agree with the director McQueen. This was a poor interview and shows the lack of accuracy on the part of the interviewer. Are you familiar with films and directing or documentary programs. The passage of time is not some poignant event, especially in the life of a slave. How would a slave confined geographically take notice of the years? I would have to agree that the physical world itself and the aging physically of the persons is the only clue. I am still going to see the film in NY.

  • CareyCarey | October 8, 2013 5:06 PM

    I am trying to hold tight on reading this interview but comments as insane as Zees' is gonna have me act a fool up in here.

    Listen, the passing of time is not a poignant event? Really?

    Aside from the life of a slave, any movie which involves the life of any person over a specific time period, must take me through that journey. Now, in reference to a slave (a slave who was a free man), I would expect a director to take me through the slave transformations, and that of his families and the surrounding world, throughout different periods of his life, in as many details as possible.

    On a similar note, I am reminded of the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Although Benjamin evolved physically,which helped me "feel" his journey, the director still took sufficient time to take us along on various stages of his journey, that which Tambay believes is missing in this film.

  • Rocket | October 8, 2013 4:22 PM

    "The passage of time is not some poignant event, especially in the life of a slave."

    The entire film is set around a free man being wrongfully taken into slavery for 12 years. How is the passage of time not relevant here? It is a central theme of the story.

  • jeni | October 8, 2013 3:54 PM

    Bewildered by this comment...slaves could mark the passage of days like everyone else on the planet...the concept of sunrise and sunset is pretty simple. And nobody knows how to spread news while under duress like black folks.

  • reader411 | October 8, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    Tambay, Tambay, Tambay....
    Leave your preconceived notions at the door. Be a blank slate as an interviewer. It'll render a much better interview.

    Hats off to you for this Q&A. really enjoyed it.

  • Accidental Visitor | October 8, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    In defense to Tambay, in the earliest reviews there were two which also commented that the film didn't do that good of a job in giving you a sense of the passage of time. Other than that they raved about the film with one of them claiming it was the movie's only flaw. And besides them and Tambay no one else has brought up that topic.

    I guess I'll find out myself when I see the movie; I always envisioned the passage of time being a key component in telling the story. But even if that does end up being somewhat lacking I can deal with it as long as the movie itself is fantastic.

  • DJ | October 8, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    Hunger was wrenching but Shame was an awful, self serving exploration of "indulgence." He doesn't get a pass for that cloddish piece. But I am looking forward to 12 Years.

  • Masha Dowell | October 8, 2013 2:50 PMReply

    What a great interview Tambay. I saw the film last night; and I liked seeing slavery from his point of view. For me, the best parts of the film were subtle and unspoken.

  • Ramiie | October 8, 2013 2:44 PMReply

    What a stupid, really crappy and pointless series of questions. I am embarrassed for this interviewer who makes S&A a laughing stock.

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