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Steve McQueen on the set of 12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen on the set of 12 Years A Slave

News Americas, LOS ANGELES, CA, Mon. Mar. 3, 2014: He jumped up and down on the stage after nervously thanking those who made it possible Sunday night.

Caribbean Briton-born director of ’12 Years A Slave,’  Steve McQueen had every reason to celebrate Sunday night at the Oscar’s as he had made history, becoming the first film from a black director to win the film industry’s top honor in the 86 years of the Academy Awards.

McQueen may not have won the director honor but alas the film picked up the night’s top honor, ‘Best Picture of the Year,’ sending  the man born to a Grenadian father and Trinidadian mother and the entire cast into celebration.

McQueen dedicated the award to all former slaves and the thousands who are still enslaved around the world today. And he took the opportunity to thank his mom, who stood up and waved in the audience.

The film tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living with his wife and children in New York in 1841, who is tricked by slave traders into traveling to Washington, D.C., where he is kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Sent to Louisiana, he experiences the violence and degradation of life as a slave while clinging to the hope that he will someday regain his freedom.


McQueen was born in West London. But film was not always on his radar.

He was a keen footballer, turning out for the St. Georges Colts football team. He did an A level art at Hammersmith and West London College, then studied art and design at Chelsea College of Art and Design and then fine art at Goldsmiths College.

That’s where he first became interested in film. He left Goldsmiths in 1993 and studied briefly at New York University’s Tisch School in the United States but he said he found the approach there too stifling and not experimental enough for him complaining that “they wouldn’t let you throw the camera up in the air.”

And throw the camera up in the air he did. His first major work was Bear (1993), in which two naked men (one of them McQueen) exchange a series of glances which might be taken to be flirtatious or threatening.

Deadpan (1997), is a restaging of a Buster Keaton stunt in which a house collapses around McQueen who is left unscathed because he is standing where there is a missing window.

As well as being in black and white, both these films are silent. The first of McQueen’s films to use sound was also the first to use multiple images: Drumroll (1998). This was made with three cameras, two mounted to the sides, and one to the front of an oil drum which McQueen rolled through the streets of Manhattan. The resulting films are projected on three walls of an enclosed space. McQueen has also made sculptures such as White Elephant (1998) and photographs.

He won the Turner Prize in 1999, although much of the publicity went to Tracey Emin, who was also a nominee.

In 2006, he went to Iraq as an official war artist. The following year he presented Queen and Country, a piece which commemorated the deaths of British soldiers who died in the Iraq War by presenting their portraits as a sheet of stamps.

His 2007 short film Gravesend depicted the process of Coltan refinement and production. It premiered at The Renaissance Society in the United States.

His 2008 feature film Hunger, about the 1981 Irish hunger strike, premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.[16] McQueen received the Caméra d’Or (first-time director) Award at Cannes, the first British director to win the award.

The film was also awarded the inaugural Sydney Film Festival Prize, for “its controlled clarity of vision, its extraordinary detail and bravery, the dedication of its cast and the power and resonance of its humanity.”

The film also won the 2008 Diesel Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The award is voted on by the press attending the festival. Hunger also won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for a New Generation film in 2008 and the best film prize at the London Evening Standard Film Awards in 2009.

McQueen’s second major theatrical release, Shame, is set in New York City. It stars Michael Fassbender as a sex addict whose life is turned upside down suddenly when his estranged sister (Carey Mulligan) comes back one day and depicts his struggle to deal with it.

He is a winner of the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, a Turner Prize and a BAFTA.

Already an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to the visual arts. Since 1997 McQueen has made his home in Amsterdam, with his longtime partner, cultural critic Bianca Stigter, and their daughter Alex and son Dexter.

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