One of the most revolutionary film directors to emerge this century so far is Steve McQueen. A Turner Prize winning artist who has turned his attention to feature films, McQueen’s realistic and fearless approach to exploring serious topics such as domestic abuse and slavery as well as taboo subjects such as sex addiction. When it comes to mcQueen, nothing is off limits and he isn’t afraid to expose the realities of the film’s subjects. He is also the first black filmmaker to win the Acaemy Award for Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave. I also think he should have been rewarded the Best Director Oscar as well although Alfonso Cuarón did a great job with Gravity.
Given the current landscape, I think it is now more important than ever to highlight the talent and calibre that people of colour bring to the film industry. The film industry is so important when it comes to representation and sadly, it just isn’t where it should be. Film is a fantastic medium to express personal stories, provide escapism and bring relevant topics and subjects to the forefront as point of discussion. I thought it best to take a look into McQueen’s amazing filmography and do a ranking of his films. There are only four films but each one is a standout in their own right so as usual, it will prove to be a challenge.
Here are my mini reviews for each McQueen film follows by the ranking:
McQueen’s feature debut stars Michael Fassbender as IRA protestor, Bobby Sands, who takes part in a hunger and no-wash strike. This is a fantastic debut for McQueen and deservedly won him a BAFTA for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer for their First Feature Film. We watch as Sands figuratively and literally begins to fade away as he becomes the symbol for the strike. McQueen doesn’t hide the dirtiness and the discomfort in watching Sands lose the majority of his weight to the point where he can’t function. Technically, the film appears simple but it is comprised of many brilliant shots, one in particular being a 17 minute non-stop conversation between Sands and Father Moran (Liam Cunningham). By bringing a minimalist and realistic angle to the film, it actually exemplifies the horrors of the strike. Hunger put both McQueen and Fassbender on the map and it made way for the former’s unapologetic point of view approach to filmmaking.
For his second feature, McQueen reunites with Fassbender who plays Brandon Sulliven, a business executive who has an addiction to sex. Much like Hunger, McQueen does not flinch away from the realities that sex addiction has. There is nudity, both male and female, in abundance as well as underlying issues of family conflict and self-harm. This is not a film to be watched lightly as it is even more uncomfortable than its predecessor but it talks about a topic that people consider taboo. It also explores classism and the idea of the untouchable rich white male. During his usual work day, Brandon religiously watched pornography on his computer and when this is discovered, it is automatically assumed that his intern is the one who has been downloading and watching it. The idea that someone like Brandon couldn’t be associated with sex addiction is an idea that McQueen rejects in Shame. Brandon surrounds himself with sex to avoid the fact that he is lonely and unfulfilled.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The film that propelled McQueen to the major awards circuit, 12 Years a Slave is possibly the most explicit and “real” feature film about slavery in mainstream cinema. Based on the memoir of the name same by Solomon Northup, a New-york born black man who was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Louisiana. Northup is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor with Lupita Nyongo’o as fellow slave Patsey and Fassbender in his third McQueen film as slave owner Edwin Epps. It’s a star-studded cast but what McQueen does so well is focus so much on the characters and their development that the audience forgets which actors they are watching and it becomes almost documentary like. McQueen does not hold back on the brutality that the slaves face and it goes beyond daily beatings as we see Epps rape Patsey and Epps’ wife feel resentment for Patsey rather than her husband. It’s a film that demands conversation and McQueen refuses to allow the film to be whitewashed or edited to appeal to white audiences in the way that films such as Song of the South does.
The latest feature film released by McQueen is an amazing tour de force starring Viola Davis as Veronica, a woman recently widowed after her bank robber husband, Harry (Liam Neeson) and his cohorts are killed when their car blows up. Veronica along with the other widows of the men who died must work together to get some money that is owed to a crime boss. The team comprises of Veronica, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) and it’s so empowering watching such a huge film led by women and more importantly such a diverse cast of women. Anyone who claims that women cannot lead a film because it doesn’t bring in money is mistaken as the film was a critical and commercial success. What makes the film so engaging is how well-rounded each of the women are. We get a grip of their backgrounds in a few scenes and yet the audience understands their story and motivations to get the money. Even when Belle, who wasn’t one of the original widows is brought into the plot, is introduced, her backstory as both a beautician and babysitter is made clear highlighting her struggling financial position.
Although it is not the longest filmography, McQueen has proven why he is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. I have included discussions of each of the films above when talking about Michael Fassbender and Viola Davis’ best roles which you can read here and here, respectively. I think that only demonstrates McQueen’s talent as director that he is able to create career-best films for his stars. His ability to create characters that are well-rounded is flawless and he has only demonstrated improvement as we go from a single standout performance in Hunger to four equally developed characters in Widows where he allows women to take the lead.
Here is my ranking of McQueen’s film:
1) 12 Years a Slave (2013)
2) Widows (2018)
3) Hunger (2008)
4) Shame (2011)
Do you agree with my ranking? Which McQueen film is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!