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Steve McQueen Sets Up Next Project At HBO - Drama On Young Black Man Navigating NYC High Society

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 29, 2013 12:07 PM
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In my interview with Steve McQueen, a question I was thankfully able to squeeze into my 12 minutes, was what we can expect from him next. His response: a musical. Although he hadn't yet decided on what that potential musical would be.

But based on this morning's news (courtesy of Deadline), the much-talked-about director's next project doesn't look like it will be a musical. And, in fact, it won't be a project that will be released in theaters. At least, that doesn't appear to be the case at the moment.

The celebrated director with now just 3 feature films on his resume, has 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 are currently 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'm already intrigued, needless to say. My mind is already considering all the potential themes a concept like this could explore. And knowing that this will be in McQueen's hands, gives me even more to think about.

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 about today? And he's been able to accomplish this with just 3 films. 

The 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 standard, reductive industry comparisons, but I understand why they are commonplace.

HBO is fast-tracking the project, meaning it'll likely be McQueen's next directorial effort, with casting underway.

And given the above description, we wait with anticipation to learn what black actor will be cast to play the lead. Also, it's not clear whether this will be an ongoing dramatic series, or a singular movie project for HBO.

No matter, the concept definitely intrigues, and I'm curious to know more about what McQueen's cooking up for us next.

It's also a curiosity that the project is set up at HBO, and not aimed at a theatrical release. Although, it could very well be as well. But better a premium cabler like HBO, than broadcast network TV.

Stay tuned.

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  • CareyCarey | November 2, 2013 9:26 AMReply

    Steve McQueen in the buff? Okay, raise your hand if you'd like to see Stevie in his birthday suit. Well, my hands are plastered to the sides of my thighs.

    Listen, I am suggesting Branch Ricky would be just another garden variety baseball owners without Jackie Robinson and Ashford would be another forgotten songwriter without his wife, Valerie Simpson by his side. So now we have Steve McQueen entering the grand stage without Michael Fassbender.

    UT OH, I see a major problem brewing on the horizon. In McQueen's film Hunger, Michael Fassbender played an Irish Republican prisoner who demonstrated commitment to his cause by starving himself. That nine minute dialog was what stars are made of.

    In McQueen's "Shame" Fassbender plays Brandon, an affluent and ceaselessly horny New Yorker - it's his show. And what would "12 years" be without the sick slave master, played by Michael Fassbender, who let his little head rule his big head? Well, I think it's safe to say both films would be just another garden variety movie about a very sick white guy. I'm just saying, make no mistake about it, Twelve Years a Slave is Michael Fassbender's showcase. Hey, don't get me wrong, sex and the horrors of slavery obviously sell but I'm just asking, can McQueen make it on his own?

  • CareyCarey | October 30, 2013 9:00 PMReply

    Upon hearing this news, I would not define McQueen as a sellout. Truth be told, all of his films were basically targeted for those with blues eyes, fair complexion, thin lips and pointed noses. Black folks dollars (and voices) are an added plus, but without them the show will go on and they'll do just fine.

    But I am curious to see what he does with this. Now let's see what he's working with.

    It's being described as "Six Degrees Of Separation meets Shame." Oh lord, like Tambay, I can't stand that kind of ambiguous comparisons. I mean, "Six Degrees" is presently playing on Netflix (and I've seen it before... many years ago) but if I remember correctly (which I am having a hard time doing these days) there was several themes flowing through that movie. And Shame? Okay, I didn't see that movie (and never will) but I heard it's basic theme is sex-sex and mo' sex. Damn, we all know ol' Steve loves showing naked ass, so what the hell does he have cooking in his mind.

    Well, when I look at the proposed storylines and the other players in the mix, like the black pimp Russell "easy credit ripoff" Simmon, I can safely assume black folks are in for another good fu*kin'. But I'll wait to see how this plays out before I call foul.

  • CareyCarey | October 30, 2013 10:25 PM

    Well JTC, as you surely know, the devil's in the details.

    So if I am reading you correctly, your basic question is: When, in my opinion, is a film considered as being for white people?

    Well, some will argue against this point but most films are not made with black folks in mind. For the most part, since we are a small percentage of the movie-going, money paying audience who have proven to be a fickled and splinter group, only a fool or a very rich man with nothing to do with his money would bet on our dollars... unless, of course, they are producing/making a black comedy or black rom-com.

    I know, I know, there has been a few exception but lets take a look at the details of those movies. The first that comes to mind is The Butler. Wait, I don't think I need to tell you why some whites enjoyed that film and why some blacks sopped it up like it was grandmas homemade syrup? And then there was The Help. Oh boy! Maids, maids and more maids, white folks love seeing maids and the whites who help them escape their misery.

    Last but not least, Steve McQueen's "12 years". Listen, black folks were in that film but don't be fooled, they were not the stars. The one who could receive an Oscar nod was a battered, beaten and raped SLAVE. The other top billing black was a bland submissive character. Granted, the film followed the book, but Steve McQueen chose that book, and I am suggesting he is/was well aware of how whites would accept his film.

    So JTC, I hope you see my point, if you're planning on making a film which could attract both black and white audiences and there happens to be a black man in a leading role, I'd suggest that you have your mission and goals set in the right place.

    Is it money or the love of art that's driving you? If it's primarily a lust for money, then pay very close attention to how the white man and the black man relate to each other. The overwhelming majority of white people DO NOT like giving up their power positions, even if it's in a movie.

    I hope that answered your question. And... you owe me because answering you made my turkey necks get cold and dry up :-o

  • JTC | October 30, 2013 9:26 PM

    Brother Carey,

    Respectfully, I am curious. If I make a film about African American people, then I make a film about a wider cast of people (including but perhaps not studying an African American character) does this mean that I am making the second film for white peoples benefit or is there something particular about Steve McQueen's work that makes you feel this way? I am asking because, as strange as it may seem, I am hoping to reach a point where a wide audience appreciate my films. I also feel that some of my favorite filmmakers from around the world hope to reach a wider audience for their work as well.

  • JTC | October 30, 2013 8:17 PMReply

    I am open to anyone who wants to dialogue with me on this issue.

    Sellout? Really? I have to say that some of the dialogue that I have heard around Steve McQueen is quite interesting/strange. There is a definite inconsistency in how Steve McQueen has been addressed in comparison to other filmmakers of African descent.

    I have no expectation that everyone will find the work of each filmmaker to his or her liking. I don't necessarily enjoy Lars Von Trier or the work of David Lynch for example. My concern is that there are, when we look at the work of filmmakers throughout the world, films which are realized in a variety of different ways (Ozu's use of 50mm lenses and low angles, the disturbingly long takes of Bela Tarr, the visual metaphors of Terence Malick).

    Steve McQueen's filmmaking style features attributes which are popular in the international filmmaking community which is a major part of the reason for the critical acclaim that he has achieved. Consider the slow cinema style which is popular around the world. Many of those films don't necessary fly in the USA, but get a lot of love overseas. And the brother is from England so he has a different perspective in more than just relative to story.

    I actually love the critical analysis but I would like to see the same analysis to the rest of our films across the board. It seems to me that some people are bothered that Steve McQueen is getting some serious love. Honestly, do we think that some of how people have responded to brother McQeen is supportive of our filmic excellence? Can we be as critical of our African American filmmakers?

    Straight up, although our films have been improving in recent years, there is still a considerable amount of mediocrity in African American film. I have worked on African American films in several different cities. I met filmmakers who don't know what cinematic storytelling is. I met people who never studied screenwriting, yet wrote a screenplay and made a movie and it showed. I have worked on films where people hire actors without years of training, and it showed. I don't get it. I thought we were all raised with the understanding that we had to be twice as good to be considered equal. How much of that is reflected in our films?

  • CareyCarey | November 1, 2013 11:58 PM

    "What do you feel are the limits that S&A audience can purposefully dialogue about? What are the kinds of critical analysis applicable to this environment? How does the community of African American develop more ways to evolve, in a more collective sense?" ~JTC

    The limits are not restricted to S&A's audience. This medium, a film blog, for the most part attracts a click & go audience. I sometimes call them drive-by visitors. Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. With the advent of the Internet, multi-channel cable networks and video games, it's basically the sign of the times... there's so much begging for our attention. And you're asking for people to use their minds in their spare time. Ain't gonna happen.

    In respect to black audiences (or black filmmakers) and their willingness to engage in film analysis, there does seem to be a resistance (at this blog anyway), the comments in JANA SANTE's post will attest to that.

    That reminds me, take a look at MsWoo's words: "black film fatigue. It's actually part of the reason I pulled away from writing for S&A. I actually like watching movies. I needed to get back to watching movies because they appeal to me, not just because I feel obliged to see them... only to be sorely disappointed. I'm not about to see every film that has black people in it [...] Basically, I'm not about to see a generic, paint by numbers film that wouldn't normally appeal to me just because you've populated it with black folks. Inane is inane in any colour." ~ Ms Woo

    JTC, MsWoo was saying what many will not, that is, black films are in dire need of repair. She, and the crew, also received much hate for giving an analysis of Steve McQueen's film. I am suggesting that if those who visit and comment at this blog do not believe anything is "broken", or are in need of repair, it goes without question that they WILL NOT spend five thin minutes (let alone hours) discussing ways to fix it.

  • JTC | November 1, 2013 10:46 PM

    I have sensed that possibility (although I have to admit that this saddens me because there are forums where these discussions about narrative structure and cinematic storytelling are possible but usually don't include many African Americans and the way that these most essential of filmmaking skills can be utilized in our films) and film school, well, very few of us have those kinds of resources.

    Yet, I am committed to the kinds of thinking which can improve the quality of our films. Further, there are some undeniable gaps in some of the discussions as a result. What do you feel are the limits that S&A audience can purposefully dialogue about? What are the kinds of critical analysis applicable to this environment?

    I ask because when I watch films from our community, I often see films with interesting ideas which, in my opinion, lack the visual storytelling to more fully realize the power of their original idea? How does the community of African American develop more ways to evolve, in a more collective sense?

  • CC | November 1, 2013 9:36 AM

    "Is S&A the forum for these kinds of dialogue?"

    Absolutely NOT. Now that's not a knock against S&A's audience. You're asking for information/discussions/feedback in the order of which one would (or could) find at a film school or filmmakers work shop.

  • JTC | October 31, 2013 2:53 PM

    I agree with you on this.

    I love a lot of different narrative strategies when it comes to filmmaking. Can we make a film with the narrative structure of SYRIANA or CONTAGION except around our stories? I want to dialogue with S&A folk about things like the use objective vs subjective camera, long lenses vs wide lenses. How do we positively address how to grow our visual pallets as filmmakers?

    I have a film project which is based around the nervous breakdown a young man has after shooting the wrong person. It is based off of something which happened to someone close to me. The thing is that the way a "nervous breakdown" happens on the block is not the same as a white woman in suburbia. My visual strategy is to use significantly longer takes to allow the audience to register the emotional journey my lead character takes as he tries to come grips with what he has done and to use wide to longer lenses to create a sense of claustrophobia in the viewer. I want to use color grading to start with normal color saturation subtly moving to a slightly de-saturated look to show his loss of vitality. The pace will not be slow (from my perspective), a lot of moments and events will be taking place in the visual frame.

    To the collective credit to my S&A people, there is a considerable amount of discussion about the forms and methodologies for distributing our films. But few if any questions about whether or not the narrative strategies of the mainstream Hollywood Style always suit the kinds of stories that we need to tell about our communities.

    Is S&A the forum for these kinds of dialogue (?) because I have struggled to find black filmmakers who want to talk to me about these things which I personally feel are centrally important.

  • CareyCarey | October 31, 2013 11:46 AM

    "Steve McQueen's filmmaking style features attributes which are popular in the international filmmaking community which is a major part of the reason for the critical acclaim that he has achieved... I actually love the critical analysis but I would like to see the same analysis to the rest of our films across the board. Can we be as critical of our African American filmmakers?"

    GREAT POINTS! And, therein lies the rub here at S&A. When one ventures outside the confines of S&A, they'll see critical analysis of all films and all directors. Yet, here at S&A (at least from the majority who comment) when one analyzes a film by a black director they're viewed as vile intellectual masturbators (reference the post "S&A Weighs In: On The Aftermath of 12 Years A Slave & Important Black Film Fatigue" ). In said post one visitor claimed "i hope you guys know you do yourself and this site a great disservice when you write such articles that go against everything this site is supposedly about" and many agreed with her sentiments.

    What can we glean from that comment and those who agreed with her? Did S&A's mission statement say they should never and will never analyze a "black" film or a black director? I just don't get it.

    In reference to "black film fatigue", again, I believe many missed the point, and obviously didn't read the link: The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue -->

    The article opens: "For the black filmgoer, movies like 12 Years a Slave aren't mere popcorn fare—anger, annoyance, and vulnerability often follow when history is commodified by Hollywood. The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue are doubt, guilt, self-preservation, annoyance, anger, vulnerability, and acceptance"

    And, it appears that some in the S&A community do not understand how important it is to discuss those issues and/or are not comfortable reading anything which may be perceived as a negative opinion of a "black" film.

  • chimmychonga | October 30, 2013 6:15 PMReply

    Ah, the sellout begins. It doesn't take them very long to get moving on these things.

  • RGordon | October 30, 2013 1:48 PMReply

    It's all about the math.
    HBO = naked white women + violence
    Steve McQueen = drama + edge
    I predict this will be some sort of (Sweetback - the Baadasssss) + (Sex and the City - Journalism) + (Wall Street - Redemption). Basically: youngish black guy arrives in NY High Soceity, starts making money, f*cking the bosses wives until he messes with the wrong people, and gets his come-uppance. Will be a fast-paced, decadent thrill-ride of a watch, but no power structures will be harmed in the making of this film.

  • Jay | October 30, 2013 10:20 AMReply

    SHAME was terrible - I'm dubious of this...

  • Alex | October 30, 2013 7:05 AMReply

    Wow - HBO and Steve Mcqueen? This is a match made surely?
    Looking forward to some updates.

  • curious1 | October 29, 2013 10:05 PMReply

    I'm sure it won't be another 6 Degrees lone wolf story since there are plenty of wealthy blacks in high society, particularly in NYC and prostitution would not allow anyone much of a permanent foothold in that world

  • Troy | October 30, 2013 12:11 PM

    The music industry, the theater, the ballet, and even the orchestra have a sordid past when it comes to the exploitation of new talent for the sexual proclivities of NY elite. Many people ascend and descend daily because base acts of desire. If this story is about sticking and us on HBO sex will certainly play a major role.

  • Troy | October 29, 2013 2:44 PMReply

    Well a certain segment of the audience for his last film will never watch his first two films. Also that same segment will run from this project as soon as they realize it involves gay for pay motifs. I'm not interested in another NY set story yet this project may make plenty people uncomfortable for me that is worth a watch.

  • Will Roberson | October 29, 2013 2:15 PMReply

    This sounds Like my story in reverse. I was married into the high society of England. I am from Harlem New York. I wrote a screen play with Gerard Brown who wrote Juice 2pacs first movie. My film is called Luciana. We have sent it to a few big shots in the movie biz. And now this pops up lol interesting to say the least.

  • The Truth | October 29, 2013 1:09 PMReply

    Tambey sucks!

  • Alex | October 30, 2013 7:04 AM

    You are an actual idiot. What are you contributing to the conversation. I'd hazard a guess that you don't even feel good about yourself right now.

  • @JayTeeDee | October 29, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    This sounds like it will be amazing! And about damn time!

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