Few filmmakers have had a better year than director Steve McQueen, whose searing 12 Years a Slave wowed critics and audiences alike, earning over $187.7 million and earning three Academy Awards last spring, including Best Picture. The win put McQueen in the history books both as the first black producer to have received the award and the first black director to have made a Best Picture winner. Will his next big screen project continue the winning streak?
Of course, it’s too early to tell, but the director’s new subject will certainly make Academy voters prick up their ears – McQueen’s next film will focus on actor, singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.
McQueen announced the project on stage at the Hidden Heroes awards, calling it a passion project that he’s been trying to make since his debut Hunger:
“I was about 14 years old, and not knowing who Paul Robeson was, this black American in Wales, it seemed strange. So then, of course, I just found out that this man was an incredible human being.”
Robeson, the son of an escaped slave, was a noted football player, singer and actor who later became known as an activist in the U.K. for campaigning for better pay and conditions for the miners of South Wales. Robeson’s affiliation with communism, support for anti-imperialism and political activism caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era of U.S. politics, which irreparably damaged his career. By the time of his death in 1976, his assortment of professions had brought him worldwide fame.
At first blush, Robeson and McQueen seem like a match made in cinematic heaven. The director has demonstrated a remarkable talent for handling character in his past features (which, in addition to Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, include the Michael Fassbender-led sex addiction drama Shame), and Paul Robeson is an undeniably challenging but intriguing subject, so all things point to this being a very promising project.