So it seems appropriate as the row over the ‘all-white’ Oscars rumbles on (#OscarsSoWhite), that the person I want to post about today is a leading Black British director, producer and screenwriter who was born in London in 1969 with parents from Trinidad and Grenada – Steve McQueen.
McQueen is probably best known for winning an Oscar for Best Film in 2014 for his screen adaption of the 1853 slave memoir of Solomon Northup – ’12 Years a slave’ – this was the first time any film with a Black director or producer won an Academy Award for Best Film. The movie, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita N’yongo, also won a BAFTA and Golden Globe as well as a Best Director award for McQueen from the New York Film Critics Circle.
In fact McQueen has been rewarded for his work quite a bit – in 2011 he was honoured with a CBE for services to the visual arts and in April 2014 Time magazine included him in its annual Time 100 list as one of the ‘Most Influential People in the World’.
But what makes McQueen so interesting for me is the fact that he grew up in West London in the 70s and 80s (just like me). He also often tells a story of how he was stereotyped at school, in his case, being put into a class full of mainly Black boys who were thought of as ‘academically challenged’ – so basically written off.
But instead of using this experience and his dyslexia to feed a bitter notion of neglect, anger and under privilege, McQueen was able to develop his talent for art and visual design and has now gone on to have a successful career in Hollywood.
So, as with all of the people I try to highlight on this blog, he is a great example of someone from a Caribbean background who has contributed significantly to the UK and his life demonstrates how you should not let how you have been treated in the past define your whole future.
I am also excited about McQueen’s future projects which include a film biopic on Paul Robeson (who I have previously written about on this blog) and a BBC Drama about the lives of Black Britons between 1968 to 2014.
Speaking about that project McQueen said: “I don’t think there has been a serious drama series in Britain with black people from all walks of life as the main protagonists.”
Speaking about the current Oscars controversy in The Guardian he quite rightly points out that this issue goes beyond under-representation of ethnic minorities at a high-profile award show.
He said: “I’m not interested in just talking. This is an important issue. It’s an us issue. Again, this is not about black, not about white, this is about us how we want to improve our environment and our society, and who we are. So, let’s get on with it. Let’s fix this. It’s ridiculous! There’s no real debate is there … really?”
I completely agree with him but I do think it is people like McQueen who can make a difference, however small, in how Black people are perceived and the opportunities we are given especially in leading industries such as film and the media.
It’s great that he has enjoyed so much success and it shows that when you have a dream you must never let anyone dissuade you from pursuing it especially because of your colour – we must become our own cheerleaders and constantly use examples such as Steve McQueen to teach our young people that there is nothing that they cannot achieve if they believe in themselves.