Oscar-Winning ’12 Years a Slave’ Director: ‘Let’s Fix’ Oscar Diversity Problem

Associated Press
Associated Press

Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen has weighed in on the Academy Awards’ diversity controversy, saying in a recent interview that he hopes the film industry will look back at this year’s Oscars as a “watershed moment” for diversity in film.

In an interview with the Guardian, McQueen, the only black director ever to win Best Picture (in 2014 for 12 Years a Slave), said that the issue of diversity in the film business reminds him of the music business in the 1980s.

“Could you imagine now if MTV only showed music videos by a majority of white people, then after 11 o’clock it showed a majority of black people?” McQueen said. “Could you imagine that happening now? It’s the same situation happening in the movies.”

“Hopefully, when people look back at this in 20 years, it’ll be like seeing that David Bowie clip in 1983,” he added, referring to a clip of the rock star berating MTV for not featuring music videos from black artists that has made the rounds on social media since his death. “I don’t even want to wait 20 years. Forgive me; I’m hoping in 12 months or so we can look back and say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put that right.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a dramatic overhaul of its voting rules and organizational structure on Friday in an effort to defuse the renewed #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which has seen stars like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and filmmakers Spike Lee and Michael Moore pledge to boycott the Oscars over its lack of diversity among acting nominees.

While some critics like Lee and Selma director Ava DuVernay praised the Academy’s rule changes, others, including many longtime members of the Academy, loudly criticized what they called the organization’s “knee-jerk” reaction to a media firestorm.

McQueen, for his part, believes the lack of diversity goes beyond the Academy Awards.

“One could talk about percentages of certain people who are Academy members and the demographics and so forth, but the real issue is movies being made,” he told the Guardian. “Decisions being made by heads of studios, TV companies and cable companies about what is and is not being made. That is the start. That is the root of the problem.”

“I’m not interested in just talking,” he added. “This is an important issue. It’s an us issue. Again, this is not about black, not about white, this is about us, how we want to improve our environment and our society, and who we are. So, let’s get on with it. Let’s fix this. It’s ridiculous! There’s no real debate is there … really?”

McQueen was also asked what he would do if given the opportunity to be the head of a major Hollywood film studio.

“Give people more opportunities to make interesting movies,” the director replied. “Fantastic movies.”