[The Case For is an annual series – we’re starting with Best Director this is not an advertorial]
Someone on Twitter asked me recently why I so strongly believed that Best Director needed to be tied to Best Picture. After all, she argued, they really are two separate things. The producers receive the award for Best Picture and the director gets his/her own award. Who gets to take credit for the vision? Sometimes the producer, sometimes the director and sometimes even the actor is most responsible at the center of it all.
I suppose one reason I link director and picture is because since the early part of my life, before my dreams died, I wanted to be a filmmaker and in that dream I was an auteur — a writer/director. My appreciation of filmmaking has always resided with the director’s vision. Always. My heroes were Coppola, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Bigelow, Campion, Kubrick, Capra, Woody Allen and on and on it goes. The director led the way, always, in interpreting the story and devising film language to convey meaning. That is simply my own prejudice coloring my opinion about how the Oscars should be run. This is what bothered me most about last year’s choice for Argo. To have omitted the need for a directing nomination seemed, to me, the end of everything I knew or cared about with the Oscars. How could they not start with director?
Steve McQueen began his career by being put in a class for laborers at his high school. Dyslexic, with a lazy eye, and quite obviously black, McQueen was prejudged by the school as someone who would never accomplish anything more than construction work. Maybe he could have been a plumber. McQueen chafed against their low expectations of what he might achieve in life and headed, instead, towards art. He would eventually find himself an import at NYU, the former launching pad of Martin Scorsese, Joel Coen and Spike Lee. But McQueen found the academic instruction also too stifling. “They wouldn’t let me throw my camera up in the air,” he’d said. McQueen was determined that his vision be a unique one. He accomplished that with Hunger, and again with Shame, not playing by the predetermined rules of cinema but reinventing the form, disturbingly at times, playfully at other times. Even now, people don’t quite know what to do with Steve McQueen. He doesn’t fit the accustomed manner in which black directors are marginalized here in America — mostly given a condescending slap on the back for a job (almost) well done. He doesn’t fit in the way we romanticize directors from other countries either. Even his name, Steve McQueen, makes us think of the actor from the 1960s.