McQueen Slams Hollywood For 'Ignoring Slavery'

Richard Suchet, Arts and Entertainment Correspondent
3 January 2014

The British director of 12 Years A Slave has criticised Hollywood for avoiding slavery as a subject matter for movies.

Steve McQueen's new film - starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt - is the true story of Solomon Northup, a New Yorker kidnapped and sold into bondage in the 1840s.

The Turner Prize-winning artist, who has only directed two previous feature films, Hunger and Shame, said: "People somehow do not want to look at this particular time in history.

"The Second World War lasted five years and there are hundreds and hundreds of films about the Second World War and the Holocaust.

"Slavery lasted 400 years and there are less than 20 [films]. We have to redress that balance and look at that time in history."

12 Years A Slave has been critically acclaimed and described by some as the best slavery film ever made.

It is expected to do well at the Baftas and the Oscars, and has already been nominated for seven Golden Globes.

The only other movie to gain seven nominations is David Russell's American Hustle, starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.

McQueen's harrowing film has proved too much for some audiences in the US, with reports of people leaving cinemas early.

Ejiofor, who plays Solomon Northup, told Sky News: "There were things in the book that we really couldn't translate on to screen, because we couldn't do it in all conscience - you couldn't put people through some of those things.

"If we tried to do a literal interpretation of the book it would, in my opinion, be too much for an audience.

"But at the same time, to try and avoid the kind of violence that happened at that time would do an incredible disservice to Solomon Northup and the millions of people who went through this experience."

The film builds on - and is an artistic interpretation of - what is known as the "slave narrative", which sprouted from the numerous written accounts of those who escaped captivity and forced labour.

It is likely to be seen and remembered as an important film, regardless of awards and box office takings. It is released in UK cinemas on January 10.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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