Celebrated British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning “12 Years A Slave” was released almost a century after D W Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation”, the first film ever to be screened at the White House, writes ‘Variety’. McQueen’s film, however, was not shown at the US President’s official residence. The director, who’s also a Camera d’Or winner for his 2008 film “Hunger”, spoke about it at an in-conversation event at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
“It was just after that situation with Skip Gates,” said McQueen, recalling, according to ‘Variety’, the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates by Sergeant James Crowley. It was a suspected case of racial profiling that stirred a major controversy for then-President Barack Obama, who was accused of having allegedly taken sides by going public with his view that the local police department had acted “stupidly”.
“So, at that time, everything Obama was doing was being scrutinised,” continued the director, “and that was the theory of why “12 Years a Slave” was not projected — 99 years after “The Birth of a Nation” — at the White House.”
The filmmaker, however, was quick to add: “But then again, ’12 Years A Slave’ wouldn’t have been made without Obama being president, that’s for sure. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t have gotten the money. I think the fact that people wanted to illustrate that particular time of history when there was a black president made the movie possible.”
McQueen, who was an artist before he became a filmmaker, according to ‘Variety’, is in Rotterdam to showcase his most recent artwork, “Sunshine State”, his first since “Year 3” at Tate Britain in 2019.
Originally commissioned by IFFR to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the piece was delayed by three years due to the pandemic, but has finally found its way to the Dutch city for this year’s edition of the festival. The audiovisual piece is being exhibited at the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen museum.
“Just before my dad died, he told me this story,” said the director, whose parents were immigrants from the West Indies, about the inspiration behind the piece.
Brought from the West Indies to work as an orange picker in Florida, McQueen’s father had a harrowing brush with death after two of his co-workers confronted a white bar owner who refused to serve three black men a drink. The confrontation led to the murder of the two men, with McQueen’s dad narrowly escaping the same fate.