Sir Steve McQueen CBE
“I don’t know if I’m a filmmaker, I don’t know if I’m an artist, everything I know is up in the air, but I do know that I have the possibility to explore, to be reckless and to experiment.”
“My influences come from real life. I’m not interested in cinema for cinema’s sake. I’m interested in life – what one does and how one interacts.”
“I’m only interested in the work. … To me, it’s all about the work. It’s the only thing one can do.”
Sir Steve Rodney McQueen is an acclaimed British director and a Turner prize-winning artist.He was born in 1969 to parents who had immigrated to England from Grenada and Trinidad and grew up in West London. He had a challenging experience at school; diagnosed with dyslexia and having to wear an eye patch for a lazy eye, he was told that he was best suited for manual labour, plumbing and building. Nevertheless, he found his calling as an artist. He studied A-level Art, and then Art and Design at Chelsea College of Arts and Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he developed an enthusiasm for film.
McQueen is best known for directing the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave. He became the first black producer and the first black director to win an Oscar for best picture. The film tells the real-life story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York who was lured to Washington D.C. in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation. One critique wrote,” While we may never realize how such acts of selfishness have damaged generations, “12 Years a Slave” reminds us of the power of perseverance to confront and survive. This film can bind us today, as we look forward, by helping us understand what journey others were forced to complete.”
More recently, McQueen co-wrote and directed ‘Small Axe’ an anthology series of five films. The anthology, set within London’s West Indian Community from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, portraying the larger community in which he grew up, was a particularly personal project for McQueen. They are films which he felt should have been made "thirty-five years ago, twenty-five years ago, but they weren't… There's no way anyone would have given me – or anybody else – any money at that time to make a film about the ‘Mangrove* Nine’. A lot of people said to me: "Why did you not do this at the beginning of your film career?" But I couldn't have because I didn't have the maturity then, I didn't have the distance, I didn't have the strength. I needed to do other things before I could come back to me.”
*A group of British black activists tried for inciting a riot at a 1970 protest against the police targeting of ‘The Mangrove’, a Caribbean restaurant. They were all acquitted of the most serious charges and the trial became the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.
McQueen has received many awards for his commercial films at various film festivals throughout the world. He was appointed OBE in 2002 and CBE in 2011 for services to the visual arts. He was knighted in 2020 for services to film.
“Film is important. It can be more than reportage or a novel. It creates images people have never seen before, never imagined they’d see, maybe because they needed someone else to imagine them.”
“The film industry is so influential in changing people’s opinions and minds. We have a duty to do that because we are ‘The arts’ and often we are the leaders in changing people’s minds and their perceptions.”
McQueen has been twice listed in the Powerlist Top Ten of the most influential Black Briton – an annual publication first published in 2007 in a bid to provide professional role models for young people of African and African Caribbean heritage.
Find out more:
Director Steve McQueen on Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt