’12 Years A Slave’ director Steve McQueen says Hollywood has ignored slavery

Director wants his film to help 'redress that balance'

12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen has said that Hollywood is guilty of ignoring the issue of slavery.

McQueen’s latest film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free-born African American living in 1840s New York who was kidnapped, drugged and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup, while Michael Fassbender plays a cruel plantation owner called Edwin Epps.

Speaking to Sky News, the filmmaker said: “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. We have to redress that balance and look at that time in history.”

McQueen also said that there were scenes from Northup’s 1853 memoir, which served the basis for the film, that he was unable to include due to their disturbing nature. “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,” he said. “If we tried to do a literal interpretation of the book it would, in my opinion, be too much for an audience.

He added: “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.”

12 Years A Slave is Fassbender’s third collaboration with McQueen after 2008’s Hunger and 2011’s Shame. The film’s bumper cast is rounded off by Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Quvenzhané Wallis and Brad Pitt, who also served as one of the producers.

12 Years A Slave is being tipped as a possible Oscar contender and it’s been given a release date right in the heart of awards season. It opens in the US on October 18 before coming to UK cinemas on January 24, 2014.