Artist Steve McQueen Adds His Voice to the #OscarsSoWhite Debate

The director doesn't want to wait twenty years for change.

Steve McQueen. (Photo: Thierry Bal)
Steve McQueen. (Photo: Thierry Bal)

Artist and Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen has weighed in on the #OscarsSoWhite row which erupted last week after not one ethnic minority was nominated in an acting or directing category for the second year running.

McQueen said that he hopes that the debate will be seen as a “watershed moment” for the film industry. He also stressed that he problem was not only occurring in front of the camera.

“It’s like Johannesburg in 1976, if you go behind the scenes,” he told the Guardian. “I made two British movies [Hunger and Shame] and I never met one person of color in any below-the-line situations. Not one. No black, no Asian, no one. Like, hello? What’s going on here? Very odd.”

Steve McQueen on set for 12 Years a SlavePhoto: via Collider

Steve McQueen on set for 12 Years a Slave
Photo: via Collider

McQueen is just one of many to express their disapproval with the current slate of nominees. Director Spike Lee and actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have reportedly announced plans to boycott the ceremony.

Charlotte Rampling, who was nominated in the best actress category for her role in 45 Years, added to the controversy with her remarks on French radio station Europe 1. “It’s racist to white people,” said Rampling of the backlash. “We can never know if it was really the case, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to be in the final straight.”

Steve McQueen attends the Fondazione Prada Opening Photo: Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Steve McQueen attends the Fondazione Prada opening.
Photo: Courtesy Fondazione Prada.

The English actress and model later claimed these comments were misconstrued.”I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration,” she told CBS’s Sunday Morning, as reported by the Telegraph. After noting how honored she was to be nominated, Rampling admitted that “diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

McQueen holds out hope that following the publicity attracted by the range of nominees this year that there will be swift, recognizable change.

“Hopefully, when people look back at this in 20 years, it’ll be like seeing that David Bowie clip in 1983,” he told the Guardian, referring to an interview with MTV that was recently rediscovered following the singer’s death, where Bowie called out the network for not broadcasting enough videos by black artists.

McQueen is the only black producer to win the “Best Picture” Oscar in the award show’s history, for his 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. McQueen was also nominated for the “Best Director” award for the movie, only the third nomination in the category for a person of African descent. The award has never gone to a black director.


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