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Steve McQueen On Whether Being British Was Of Any Influence On Making '12 Years A Slave'

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 9, 2013 3:25 PM
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Steve McQueen

I love the no-nonsense way in which Steve McQueen handles himself. It's so rare to see this kind of forthrightness and outward displays of emotion from industry types - then again, I suppose he's still something of an *outsider,* not living in Hollywood (he doesn't even live in the USA actually).

But I especially love the perplexed looks he sometimes has on his face when he's asked certain questions that just don't register with him, or that seem like the answers would be obvious.

I recall the round-table organized by The Hollywood Reporter last year, during which he essentially called out and challenged his fellow white Hollywood directors on the lack of diversity in their casting choices. Watch it HERE if you didn't see it.

Here, he even answers a question that has been asked before on this blog: whether the fact that he's British was of any influence on his approach to the film, 12 Years A Slave, as opposed to if he were an African American filmmaker.

Here's the press conference he and the cast of 12 Years A Slave gave after the film's TIFF premiere last week. It's worth watching. And underneath, you'll find the press conference that followed the screening of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, with that film's key cast and crew, including Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

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  • Muse | September 14, 2013 3:57 PMReply

    Steve McQueen is not here for your BS, lol. His side-eye is razor sharp, and his sidekick Fass is a great example of an ally.

  • VINCYPOWA | September 12, 2013 12:33 PMReply

    Steve McQueen is of West Indian/Caribbean background, Grenada to be exact, so he is not going to kowtow to these Hollywood reporters.

    By the way, the Transatlantic Slave Trade started from Africa to the Caribbean, for decades before, it ever reached America.

    He is a STRONG BROTHA.

  • David Motsamayi | September 11, 2013 7:07 AMReply

    That was a terrible question. Seems Henry Louis Gates put the reporter up to asking that.

  • CareyCarey | September 10, 2013 11:19 AMReply

    "Can we talk about race in America, is it possible to have that conversation in North America?"

    When I heard that opening question I knew trouble was on the horizon. I instantly thought of Spike Lee's interview on Bloomberg TV and the odd set-it prior to that interview. But instead of McQueen going off as Spike did, he gave Miss Betty Crocker a look of "what kind of question is that?" followed by "that's a question about 12 Years A Slave is it?" and then he basically blew her off.

    What I saw in that exchange and a few that followed was not a "bad" moderator per se, but a typical white moderator and a no nonsense "I am not going to kiss your ass" black man. Consequently, as LJ implied, she wasn't prepared for that type of bold frankness.

    What was interesting about the whole Q&A is no one in the audience seemed "prepared" for this crew who obviously wasn't there to suck-up and win favors. On that note, Steve even said his job was done, if the films garners Oscars and the producers turn a profit, cool, but his goal as a true artist was to simply tell a great story... fade to black.

    Overall, this Q&A was a boring dud... and I felt McQueen's frustrations. Many of the questions did, imo, have obvious answers so when Steve raised his eyebrow in a puzzling stare, I was with him. Several times I screamed "COME ON MAN!.. what kind of question is that?". But when the brother (Jamaal from Black Street TV) raised his hand, I thought he'd save Steve from this grueling ordeal. But nope, he gets my reward for the stupidest question of the evening "How would this movie been done differently if done by an African American instead of a Brit. Does being a British man change you perspective on Slavery?"


    Steve appeared frustrated with the question but handled it and the rest of the questions in such a way that has earned him my "The Baddest Brother of The Year Who Don't Talk No Mess" award.

  • boxcarr | October 16, 2013 2:02 AM

    "but a typical white moderator" this imbecilic remark is why america is mocked around the world for being the proverbial dumbass, incapable of intelligent and thoughtful debate. you it on yourselves. However you produced in that clumsy remark an excellent metaphor that exemplifies to us brits (a former superpower, also built on foreign exploitation and black servitude) and the rest of the intelligent world, the acute level of hypocrisy and hang-ups that torture the american mind. Its the american paradox: How can a country which has gifted the whole world with the bestowment of genius and technical innovation with its indelible and cultural footprint, still cannot address the more simplest of challenges like race? Well it takes a quintessential British man of west indian lineage, to tell you.

  • CareyCarey | September 11, 2013 3:35 AM

    That's right DanceLover51, check it out, journalist better start asking somebody because as James Brown said, "Papa [Steve McQueen] is the man who will take a stand, Papa don't take no mess, Papa don't, papa don't, Papa don't take no mess. Look, Papa didn't cuss and
    he didn't raise a whole lotta fuss, but when we did wrong Papa beat the hell out of us"

    That's right Steve didn't cuss but he politely got that ass. So DanceLover, if journalist continue to come with those "slanted" questions which have absolutely nothing to do with his film, I'm grabbing my popcorn in preparation of watching a good old fashion ass whoopin' because Steve don't play that shit.

    But, you know what, I don't know who to blame, the media or our leading black actors and directors? Come on now, many of them (except Spike) are such suck-asses and middle of the road types that the press has become spoiled. I mean, whenever a black man as popular as Morgan "get over that racial shit" Freeman speaks, many seem to listen. So why not talk to Steve McQueen like he has a tail? Surely he will smile, stutter, sway, bend and jump through hoops like all those other grabs in a barrel Black American directors who will sell their soul and their first born grandchild for a job in good ol' Hollywood.

  • dancelover51 | September 10, 2013 5:42 PM

    I knew it was over for her as soon as I heard that question too. No one was prepared for Steve and it is only going to get worse for the ill prepared journalists and critics as the awards season approaches if they fail to understand who they are dealing with.

  • Donella | September 10, 2013 11:03 AMReply

    McQueen found the moderator's questions nonsensical. He's not the pandering kind, so rather than play along, he expressed his puzzlement that the questions were asked.

    I don't think he was comfortable with the focus on his British nationality. But some people seem to forget that the trans-atlantic slave trade involved at least three of seven continents--Europe, Africa, America. Four of seven if you consider North and South America separately.

    It's not strange at all that the cast and crew are representative of the international aspects of the North American slave trade.

    Overall, it was an informative press conference.

  • Amanda | October 30, 2013 12:35 PM

    Even though he grew up in Britain he most likely identifies psychologically as being West Indian/and apart of the African diaspora since both his parents are from the Caribbean (Grenada& Trinidad). I am the same way my parents are from Grenada & Aruba but I grew up in Canada and I see black identity as international both West Indian yet connected to Africans, Afro-latinos and African-Americans. I am really uncomfortable with this whole line of question of him being a Brit which I have seen in a number of interviews and its almost like a subtle kind of divide and conquer separating african-americans & black brits when those of us with similar backgrounds as Mcqueen are taught to see ourselves as apart of the same fabric that runs though many countries.

  • Stephanie | September 10, 2013 6:30 AMReply

    I don't feel as others do that she's a bad moderator at all. Many actors say the character almost inhabits them, and in a movie like this, that is a very daunting proposition. To go to the places that these actors had to go to, both Black and white, is unimaginable for me, and I thought it was a very good question to address. In fact, I think McQueen's fluffing it off as stupid, and saying well, they're actors...that's their job..if they couldn't do it, I'd get someone else...was ridiculous. It was flippant and failed to address that deep emotions and, perhaps, problems the actors had going there. Actually, I really didn't like many of his answers to any of the questions. He seemed dismissive of many of the questions, and there wasn't really any reason for it. Thankfully, the others on the panel saved this press conference.

  • LL2 | September 9, 2013 9:38 PMReply

    Oh my, Steven Mcqueen is a trip! Poor moderator, she didn't know what she was getting into.

  • LL2 | September 9, 2013 9:34 PMReply

    Wow! This movie looks great. I can't wait to see it.

  • LJ | September 9, 2013 7:52 PMReply

    Didn't anyone warn this commentator about Steve McQueen prior to her taking on this panel?

  • theblacktinafey | September 9, 2013 6:47 PMReply

    I saw that roundtable!!! It was priceless and disturbing all at the same time. They downright refused to answer the question... as if they were at a loss for words. *pish posh* Steve's "But that's so uniformed why would you ask that?" quizzical looks are always amazing. Can't wait to watch these. Thanks for posting!

  • theblacktinafey | September 9, 2013 6:49 PM


  • Roy | September 9, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    What part of the video are you referring to? Some of us haven't got time to watch the whole thing?

  • bb | September 9, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    I love how he thinks it's such an obvious story to tell. He even said that we see the effects of slavery here in this country every single day. How in the world do you not tell this story?

    I really appreciate how he doesn't sweep anything under the rug. It's out there in the open, and he makes everyone uncomfortable with his seemingly condescending answers. It's great.

  • tee | September 9, 2013 5:26 PM

    He's no-nonsense and does not suffer fools, or foolish questions, gladly. It's tough because often that's what press junkets are to promote movies. I appreciate the way Fassbender has his back and jus the way McQueen controlled the entire experience rather than be controlled by it. Everyone was poised and proud of their work and this film. Quite frankly, I think the audience was stunned.

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