Steve McQueen is pretty damn passionate when it comes to Black creators. In a recent interview with Esquire UK, McQueen discussed the impact of Black British people on the totality of British culture and the creative freedom of Black talent, while promoting his film anthology series Small Axe.
When it comes to cultural appropriation (and outright theft) in the UK, McQueen put it plainly: the British have Black Brits to thank for all the cool and notable shit that Great Britain is known for.
“It’s not Black British culture, it’s British culture, period. We changed everything, even the way you dress. Everything. The mods, rockers, everything. Let’s not play,” McQueen said, firmly.
McQueen also talked about the idea of “Black excellence,” specifically as it pertains to the film industry. While Black excellence is to be revered, celebrated, and aspirational, the concept can sometimes be a burden. This raises the question: Why can’t Black filmmakers just make films without the burden of having to create the next critically acclaimed success?
“They have to be super-special-good for them to come out,” he said. “So when we get crappy Black films and we don’t think about it, then we’re in a good place.”
Sure, these types of films exist (we have a whole series of them!), but is Black talent afforded the same space to make mediocre or questionable work without their careers being narrowed like their white counterparts? When thinking of this “ideal” scenario, I think of Tyler Perry. Maybe that’s the issue—that I can name just one Black filmmaker off the top of my head who gets to do that (make movies that are typically critically panned) on a consistent basis and whose career is far from over because of it (this year alone, his work was recognized and honored by the Television Academy).
Additionally, the filmmaker also spoke on the supposed “racial reckoning” occurring in the industry in the era of uprisings spanning from police killings of Black people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In what appears to be a quick fix, the community is bombarded with empty promises to improve diversity or attempts to right the symbolic wrongs of the past. Like many other frustratingly tired Black people, McQueen isn’t here for the performative activism.
“If I have to do a somersault about a stamp on a Royal Mail envelope? I’m sorry, we want real change. I’m not interested in some kind of symbolic gesture,” he noted.