Steve McQueen

BLACK-PANTHER_STEVE-MCQUEEN

Steve McQueen continues to say during Oscar campaigning (yes, I said it – at least I didn’t “on the campaign trail,” which is what it feels like during Oscar season) that slavery has not been abolished, and continues throughout the world.

Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, announced today that 12 Years a Slave Director Steve McQueen has been named an ambassador for the non-profit. McQueen will work alongside Polaris Project as an advocate against human trafficking, raising awareness that this is a modern-day problem that requires greater resources and action.

Since the release of 12 Years a Slave last fall, Polaris Project has worked with Fox Searchlight Pictures and Plan B Entertainment to raise awareness about human trafficking by highlighting the striking parallels between Solomon Northup’s story and the experiences of sex and labor trafficking victims today. Polaris Project is named after the North Star “Polaris” that guided people escaping slavery along the Underground Railroad.

“I am deeply honored to accept my role as an ambassador for Polaris Project. This is an organization that I truly believe is vital in fighting slavery today. From my first encounter with them, I was very impressed by their courage, determination and hard work,” said Steve McQueen, Director of 12 Years a Slave.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

[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.

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Indiewire’s Tambay Obenson posted a confirmation that Adepero Oduye will play Eliza and Storm Reid will play her daughter Emily in Steve McQueen’s next film, Twelve Years a Slave, which also stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejifor and Quvenzhané Wallis.

If you’re keeping up with our book club, you will be reading about this era, just before the Civil War, when public tolerance for slavery was waining but slaves were still prosecuted for escaping, even when they escaped to free states. Here is the wikipedia plot:

Twelve Years a Slave (1853; sub-title: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana), by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson, is a memoir of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped, sold into slavery and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, DC, as well as describing at length cotton cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana. Published soon after Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Northup’s book sold 30,000 copies and was considered a bestseller. It went through several editions in the nineteenth century.

One of the most compelling stories like this, which would make a great movie if someone was ever to take it on, involves a woman who is brought to a free state by her master and natural father. She escapes, is captured, tried and found guilty and is then sent back to being a slave. But the case itself, with Salmon Chase as the defense attorney, was notable and celebrated.

McQueen is a standout filmmaker, even if the awards community couldn’t be bothered to nominate Shame for anything. He’ll be recognized one day.

THR talks with Alexander Payne, Mike Mills, Steve McQueen, Jason Reitman, Bennett Miller and Michel Hazanavicius. (Thanks Paddy M)

Every Michael Fassbender fan freaks out in his or her own special way. Critics draw Daniel Day-Lewis comparisons, bloggers term themselves “Fassinators,” and women pass out in movie theaters when the actor comes on-screen. The fainting occurred at the Toronto International Film Festival, at the premiere of Shame, a movie in which he stars as a mournful sex addict. The film was acquired by Fox Searchlight and will see its release timed for optimal Oscar consideration in December. The unconscious woman was revived and taken to the hospital…

David Cronenberg, who directed Fassbender as Carl Jung in this year’s A Dangerous Method, says that the actor so effectively lost himself in the part that at the Venice Film Festival, “nobody recognized him until we introduced him to the audience.” Both men were pleased by this. Shape-shifting, Cronenberg said, is a rare and fantastic skill for an actor to have: “The more a chameleon you can be, the better off you are.”

Video after the cut. (from GQ via FassinatingFassbender)

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Every Michael Fassbender fan freaks out in his or her own special way. Critics draw Daniel Day-Lewis comparisons, bloggers term themselves “Fassinators,” and women pass out in movie theaters when the actor comes on-screen. The fainting occurred at the Toronto International Film Festival, at the premiere of Shame, a movie in which he stars as a mournful sex addict. The film was acquired by Fox Searchlight and will see its release timed for optimal Oscar consideration in December. The unconscious woman was revived and taken to the hospital…

David Cronenberg, who directed Fassbender as Carl Jung in this year’s A Dangerous Method, says that the actor so effectively lost himself in the part that at the Venice Film Festival, “nobody recognized him until we introduced him to the audience.” Both men were pleased by this. Shape-shifting, Cronenberg said, is a rare and fantastic skill for an actor to have: “The more a chameleon you can be, the better off you are.”

Video after the cut. (from GQ via FassinatingFassbender)

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Fox Searchlight continues its commitment to back daring and brilliant work with its acquisition of Steve McQueen’s Shame, one of the best films to play Telluride, and I’m going to be, the entire year.  They’ve already got Tree of Life and Martha Macy Mary Marlene – and to add Shame to that list is a marvel. They are also distributing the other best film I saw in Telluride, The Descendants.   Looks to be an interesting awards year for Searchlight.

“Steve McQueen’s courageous exploration of modern life’s extremes is breathtaking.  He has crafted an extraordinary film that probes some of the deepest and darkest issues ever portrayed on screen with amazingly gifted performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan,” said Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula.

“This is a brave statement and an important move by Fox Searchlight.   I am very happy they came on board to release Shame in the U.S.  It’s great to be working with a team that is so passionate about cinema,” said McQueen.

Step one – make a brilliant, uncompromising film that says something new about the human experience, the need for real intimacy, and the power of addiction. Step two – show it at a film fest and get a powerful distrib to back it. Step three – hope word of mouth gets people into the theater to see it. Step four – hope that people are not too put off my extreme sexuality (a bunch of babies, hell, in the 1970s and even in the 1980s there were films that explored sexuality — but we didn’t live in an infantilized culture then).  Step five – can the Academy recognize, if nothing else, Fassbender and Mulligan with acting nods? Perhaps also a screenplay nod?

We will have to wait and see how the drama plays out.  But one thing’s for sure – Shame will be among the most talked about films of the year.

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