Director in Focus: Steve McQueen – ‘Fresh and Contemporary’


Known mostly for his 2013 memoir-based drama 12 Years a Slave, London-born filmmaker Steve McQueen has made a name for himself as one of the most interesting and thought-provoking directors of the 21st century. His small but impactful filmography showcases his talent as not only a filmmaker, but one that is black and British. Throughout his work, McQueen aims to move away from stereotypically ‘black’ narratives of crime, and instead explores a variety of stories that displays a range of lives and the struggles of those who are not portrayed within the mainstream media.

McQueen has become a household name for British filmmaking due to his critically acclaimed drama films which always manage to capture the attention of critics and audiences alike. His first directorial feature Hunger (2008) which stars Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands who led the second IRA hunger strike in 1981 whilst confined in prison. McQueen quite often works with similar actors throughout his work, as Fassbender also features in the grippingly shocking drama Shame (2011), which brought another level into McQueen’s work – one that created a haunting storyline of sex addiction and trauma.

12 Years a Slave was the true breaking point for McQueen’s work, winning him a multitude of Academy Award nominations and three wins – most notably the coveted award for Best Picture. The true shock and realism that the film portrayed, whilst being targeted towards a Hollywood audience that McQueen had not faced before, is what makes it a stand out production to this day. 12 Years a Slave holds both a stellar cast and an incredible screenplay by John Ridley, but it’s McQueen’s directing that really brought the film to the forefront and cemented his work from then on.

Although McQueen is known for his emotive drama films, his filmmaking career began in a style that was much more minimalist and experimental. His collection of short films that he made from his days at college to his move into feature films include black-and-white experimentations and much more. After winning the Turner Prize in 1999, McQueen became a breakthrough talent within the United Kingdom and gave a challenge to existing directors of the time by showcasing himself as fresh and contemporary.

McQueen is a force to be reckoned with in the filmmaking circles of both the UK and Hollywood, and it will be interesting to see if his upcoming anthology series Small Axe, a collection of films centred around London’s West Indian community during the late 60s and early 8os, diverges away from his usual style. It’s always refreshing to see black-British directors who know that they can delve much deeper than fulfilling stereotypes through their filmmaking, which is why Steve McQueen is a true talent within today’s industry.

Small Axe premieres on BBC One this November. Watch the trailer below:


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film masters student and ex-records/live exec 20/21

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