Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
Dwight Casimere with Steve McQueen at the After Party for Black Perspectives
CHICAGO--Academy Award-winning British director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) received the Chicago International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award, marking the 20th anniversary of Black Perspectives. As part of A Tribute to Steve McQueen, McQueen talked about his films, which include Hunger, a graphic depiction of the 1981 hunger strike by Irish Republican Army inmates, Shame, a stark portrayal of sexual addiction in modern day New York City, and, of course, 12 Years A Slave. All three films starred Michael Fassbender.
McQueen, a film school dropout from NYU's Tisch School, is also winner and seven time nominee of the Golden Globe, winner of the BAFTA, PGA and Turner awards. and was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services in the visual arts. He was interviewed at Black Perspectives by Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.
When asked how he came about the subject matter for 12 Years A Slave, McQueen explained that Twelve Years a Slave is based on an 1853 memoir and slave narrative by American Solomon Northup , which had been discovered by his wife. The book, as told to and edited by David Wilson, told the story of, Northup, a black man who was born free in New York state, details his being tricked to go to Washington, D.C., where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. After having been kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana.
The cover for the book narrative 12 Years A Slave by Simon Northrup
McQueen also discussed the casting of Lupita Nyongo in 12 Years A Slave. "She actually came to us through someone who I highly respected. Michael (Fassbender) has a place down in New Orleans, where I was doing research for the shooting in Louisiana, so we invited her to come down for a casting session. Michael had this huge loft space where I just let the two of them go. It was fantastic! I just got out of the way. Once they started reading the scene, it was like two cats fighting!"
The scenes from his other films were equally as ardous. "I tend to shoot very quickly. Everything for 12 Years A Slave was shot in just 35 days with a single camera. Likewise for "Shame" which was shot in 25 days, "Hunger," in just 22. I shoot my films almost in real time, which gives them a sense of urgency and reality," the great director explained.
One particular sticking point, he found, which lingered long after "Slave" reached its preeminence, was the talk of "slavery fatigue," particularly as referenced among black audiences. "How can anyone be tired of talking about slavery. Do people tire of discussing the Holocaust or the story of Anne Frank?"
Chicago Film Festival Founder Michael Kutza (center) with Board Members