If you have heard of Steve McQueen before, it is probably from the award-winning movie, 12 Years a Slave, released in 2013. The film, storytelling to most of us, is a recollection of his early life. It is also a story of slavery in America. The son of West Indian parents, Steve, has known slavery all his life. While his stories and films stand the test of time, as brilliant pieces of art, he admits to faults residing in his perspective too.
As an artist, he believes his view to be extremely singular. However, he also believes that this perspective that helps him look beyond the lens. And today, we shall dissect the man behind the director’s chair, Steve McQueen.
Early Life – Navigating a Post Slavery World for Steve McQueen.
Unlike a lot of other directors in the showbiz, nothing in McQueen’s life came easy. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Instead, he was at that time, at the lowest rung of the ladder. Steve McQueen was from a West-Indian family, and both his parents have been victims of the slave trade. In an interview with The Guardian, Mcqueen remarked on the impact that slavery played on his life. “There was never a moment I haven’t reminded the world I lived in. We never knew a life without slavery then.”
On whether he felt angry at the centuries of oppression his people had to endure, he didn’t have much to say, “Angry? No. We were hurt, yes. There was confusion and hurt, but we were never angry. We were, of course, angry about the fact that slavery was accepted and welcomed in the country, but we were never angry at our circumstances. They were painful and hurtful, but I think we just learned to live with them.”
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Entering A New Industry.
After all the oppression that they lived in, the abolishment of slavery brought sighs of relief. Mcqueen’s family and a lot of other families took to doing the work they knew best, but in better conditions now. However, they had never exposed themselves to the arts and the job prospects in the world. Therefore, when Steve Mcqueen expressed his desire to work as a director in the industry, his parents couldn’t understand it. Even after becoming an acclaimed director, his father struggled with explaining Mcqueen’s job to his friends.
He has never been a conventional filmmaker. Mcqueen makes movies that grip you and leave you uncomfortable. A lot of films create a reality to divert from the dystopia we live in right now. Mcqueen’s movies intend to do the opposite. The issues that he forces us to confront are real-world issues, matters that threaten to destroy vulnerable sections of our society. And while we do become uncomfortable from the suffering we watch or our inactivity, the message gets across.
Set Apart From The Start.
It was precisely this unconventional approach of Steve’s that made him so sought-after in the film-making industry. Mcqueen’s first movie was only ten minutes long. The film, Bear, was silent and was purely one scene of two naked men, staring and sparring with each other.
It is evident in Mcqueen’s work that none of it is to please anybody. The stories he creates are unconventional and shine harsh, unforgiving lights on issues that have been under the radar far too long. Despite having topics that aren’t necessarily comfortable to witness, he and his films keep getting more and more popular by the day. If the movies aren’t a sell with the audience, they are a sell with the critics. His film, Hunger, didn’t do very well at the Box Office. However, the critics loved it, and it went on to win a BAFTA.
His most famous movie to date, 12 Years A Slave, won a total of 33 Awards, with 3 Oscars and numerous Golden Globes. The story is from the memoir of Solomon Northup of the same name.
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12 Years a Slave – What It Means For Steve McQueen and For Us.
His experience working with the memoir was a revelation he says. The story was exactly what he intends to make into a movie, but in the same way, it was completely different. When interviewed by The Guardian, he says, “It was the same as what I had in mind and was a complete surprise. And in the same way, it was a revelation with each turn of the page. You begin with an idea of what you’re going to read, but every story, every experience in actuality is very different. It is an eye-opener.”
McQueen’s work doesn’t shirk from the brutal parts of the story. In his unapologetic way of filmmaking, he manages to show us lynching, rapes, the real brutality of slave-owning. He believes that for long, we have ignored what slavery means and boded for us not long ago. There has been a kind of amnesia, an urge to block out the trauma that slavery has possessed. On both parts. Blacks of the torture and oppression and the whites of having to face the real face of their ancestors.
The Road Forward.
He admits to being typecast too quickly in his early life. Due to being dyslexic and having a lazy eye, McQueen did not do very well in school and was cast aside easily. However, despite knowing so much about him, Steve McQueen remains an extremely private person, to himself and us. And this reflects in his work. He doesn’t spend too much time trying to analyse the motivations and ticks of his characters. He believes that his work is merely a visualization of what has happened and happens everyday.
When asked about the topics he wants to make films about later on, he admitted that he didn’t really know. He believes that his part, destiny is to simply tell the truth of the story, to visualize it. Once it’s done, his job’s done too. And there are after all, a million things to visualize in this dystopian world now.