A West Indian in Britain may be on the verge of being crowned King of Hollywood.
Steve McQueen, who was born in Britain of Caribbean parents, has been nominated for the Oscars’ Best Director award and his feature film, “12 Years A Slave” has collected nine nominations and is the frontrunner to become the year’s Best Picture.
“I’m exhilarated, ecstatic,” said McQueen. “Getting all of those nominations, I’m so very happy.”
He has every reason to be on Mount Olympus. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the United States, a professional body of almost 6 000 members placed him there a few days after The Golden Globes, second in importance only to the Oscars, chose 12 Years A Slave as its best picture winner, sending a strong international signal that the West Indian and his film are the front runners for the most coveted titles in the global motion picture industry.
His film portrays the harrowing chapters in the 19th century life of Solomon Northrup, born a free man in New York but was lured to Washington in 1841 with the promise of fast money, only to be drugged, beaten and then sold into slavery, a common practice at the time.
He spent a dozen years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana plantation before he was rescued. After escaping the brutality of slavery, Northrup wrote his memoirs, an exceptionally vivid account of his experience and it became a runaway bestseller.
“The subject matter conjures up such an interesting debate with the audience that every Q&A [question and answer] has been like a town hall meeting in a way,” McQueen told reporters hours after the Oscar nominations were announced. “Everyone is talking about the present, past and future. It’s become much more social and much more passionate in a way. We made a film that was based in 1851, but it’s actually talking about what’s happening today, so it’s immensely stimulating.”
McQueen’s film is being hailed across the United States, Canada, Britain, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and elsewhere for its portrayal of the true story and words like “powerful” and “sensitive” are being used by critics and historians to describe the work.
After the victory in the Golden Globes, McQueen, born to Trinidadian and Grenadian parents, said he was “just so happy that the public has received the film so well in Europe and the United States. It’s exhilarating really.”
The film made its debut last August at the Telluride Film Festival but had its official premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival a month later. It was McQueen’s third film, behind Hunger and Shame.
“My parents are from Grenada, my mother and father, you know, this is the place where Malcolm X’s mother was born,” McQueen explained earlier. “My mother was born in Trinidad “the phrase Black power” was born in Trinidad. Harry Belafonte is from Jamaica. Marcus Garvey is from the West Indies. And there’s a huge majority of my family living in the United States, so it’s a little bit more complex than that. It’s not being a Brit, it’s about being a part of that sort of diaspora.
“My trajectory, as such, of being introduced to slavery was fairly immediate because my parents were from the West Indies,” he added. “And you know, at school there was reference to slavery but not much. So, it’s one of the things which I found out through my parents and obviously travelling back to the West Indies.
The movie’s star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was nominated in the Oscars individual Best Actor category while Lupita Nyong’o gained a nod for being among the nominees for best supporting actress. (TB)