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Steve McQueen Talks Casting A Black Woman As Love Interest In “Shame”

Steve McQueen Talks Casting A Black Woman As Love Interest In "Shame"

Via his program, The Treatment, our man Elvis Mitchell dug into Steve McQueen’s mighty brain on all things Shame, his latest work, currently in theaters; the conversation is about 30 minutes long, and is worth listening to in full.

Starting at about the 23-minute mark, Mitchell asks McQueen about the role of women in the film, and, in his reply, McQueen dishes a bit on casting a black woman, specifically Nicole Beharie, as Marianne, Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender’s) love interest, what that meant to the film, and the opposition he met. I wish he went on a little more on that subject actually; alas, it comes up towards the end of their chat, and Mitchell had to bring the program to a close.

I should also add that Blackfilm.com got to chat with McQueen, and asked him specifically about casting Beharie, and this was his reply:

As far as Nicole, she was hot. I had seen her in a play at Lincoln Center called ‘A Free Man of Color’ and I was like, “Whoa! Who’s that amazing person?” I had to see her and see if I could audition her. She was difficult to get for an audition. She was in the play, and it was initially hard to get a ticket for the play as well. Finally, she did audition and she was amazing. Nicole is pretty special. She has the capacity of being a great actress. Absolutely. It’s just about opportunities. That’s all she needs.

Listen to his convo with Elvis Mitchell below; and if you’re impatient, you can skip to the 23-minute mark:

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Comments

Orville

I find it interesting the Shadow and Act editors refuse to acknowledge the issue of race in relation to Shame. Yes, I am pleased a black director made a movie that is doing well at the box office. However, I am not going to jump on the McQueen bandwagon like Tambay and the rest of the Shadow and Act writers. I think race is a huge factor in this whole McQueen success story and people need to talk about.
When I see a black movie that goes against type and make a lot of money then I will be the first on to clap my hands and praise the director. However, McQueen is using the same strategy Oprah Winfrey used and that is get the white mainstream's acceptance.
Now the other side of the argument is can't a black director make movies with white leads?
Of course, a black director can BUT I notice that blacks don't get the praise in Hollywood until they some how "transcend" race or attempt to assimilate into the beliefs of the mythical norm.
I understand why Shadow and Act is giving McQueen a lot of media attention because the white press have given him a lot of praise. However, I don't think the Shadow and Act editors have looked beneath the surface a bit more about the media praise. Again, as I have reiterated before the two leads of Shame are white foreign actors. Would Shame get a lot of press if Brandon was a black man that got a blow job in a gay bar and screwed a lot of women? I doubt it.

AccidentalVisitor

Let me try this again:

McQueen's comments wee more interesting and more broadly directed than the description made it out to be. Essentially he was reiterating his previous complaint that more white American directors did not cast black leads in their movies. It was also clear that Elvis was both delighted that McQueen brought the subject up and disappointed that it was too late in the recording to tackle it further. I've been listening to Elvis' podcasts for about three or so years and I often wonder when he spoke to all those "bold" white American directors who are responsible for most of the great independent and art films, did he ever wonder why were their main characters exclusively white. His remark of waiting fifty or so years for someone to touch upon this curious bit of casting tells me the answer is a definite "yes."

AccidentalVisitor

McQueen’s comments wee more interesting and more broadly directed than the description made it out to be. Essentially he was reiterating his previous complaint that more white American directors did not cast black leads in their movies. It was also clear that Elvis was both delighted that McQueen brought the subject up and disappointed that it was too late in the recording to tackle it further. I’ve been listening to Elvis’ podcasts for about three or so years and I often wonder when he spoke to all those “bold” white American directors who are responsible for most of the great independent and art films, did he ever wonder why were their main characters exclusively white. His remark of waiting fifty or so years for someone to touch upon this curious bit of casting tells me the answer is a definite “yes.”

BluTopaz

I stayed away from this site for a while because I got tired of the same bullshit-the same posters who can't stay away from the topics they are so appalled by.

The first thread I go to what is it?–Carey's zillionth, nonsensical rant about a film that goes so far over his country bumpkin head, and he's being allowed to monopolize the convo ONCE AGAIN because he gets no traffic at his own site and craves attention. I guess blog's owner telling him to STFU a few months back stoked the fires even more, huh. The discussion has not moved past the drivel it was several months ago, and it's a shame that one of the few film blogs for people of color is allowed to become an outlet for individuals with issues that go far beyond a movie critique.

CareyCarey

Yes ARTBIZZY, we have reached a common ground. I did view Shame as not being a "black" film, solely because it was written and directed by a black man. Consequently, I should check my statement that Mr McQueen is a, was a, Pimping Piped Piper. I doubt his motivation to make either of his past films was rooted in a desire to dress and impress black folks. I can safely assume he was making a movie that fit his desires, goals, opportunity and artistic abilities. And then let the chips fall where they may. In my defense, I got caught-up in the heat of the argument, and my "win" at all cost mentality kicked in. But wait, I am still vehemently opposed to the carefree attitudes that minimize the effects of wanton sex. I mean, every time I hear someone express the sentiments that sex is JUST SEX and everyone does it and all men have a penis so it Okay to splash sex of any kind on the screen, I am compelled to say "slow your roll, sex is the monster that's killing many of our women, young and "older" and/or leading many of them to a life of poverty and lost dreams". So I have to stand on my position that this sex laden movie is not one I would champion… regardless of how well it's made or the skin color of the director. As for Ms Beharie, I understand why she is getting all the ink she deserves. In short, I believe my biggest complaint is directed at those who express the most vicious complaints, bitches and moans at directors such as Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry and the writers and directors of movies like The Help and Big Momma, for what they perceive as NON-POSITIVE images of black life, but then, they turn right around and champion a movie in which the protagonist is a sex freak and Ms Beharie short role is that of a married future conquest. Something is rotten in the ol' black folks critics corner. Peace

artbizzy

CareyCarey, I was more so responding to your claim that "Shame" is not a black movie because you don't believe it speaks to the black experience(correct me if I am wrong, here) and with the exception of Nicole Beharie doensn't have any other black actors. The reason it's posted on S & A though is because it was written and directed by a black director. Had a white director wrote and directed it and still had cast Nicole Beharie, S&A probably would have given her a mention too because eh is black and therefore of the black diaspora. I am not at all exempt from subject matter having an effect on me and certainly do have opinions on Tyler Perry and "The Help." I think to some extent the goal is art for art's sake but we are all part of this world so I am aware of the implications of choices and how we as members of the African Diaspora want to see more accurate and dimenional representations of us by us and anyone else. Thank you for the convo, too.

CareyCarey

ARTBIZZY, I hear what you are saying and I believe we are agree more than disagreeing. I believe you are simply saying that you embrace art for arts sake. In doing so, as long as black folks are working in any capacity, it's all good with you. And, for the most part, you don't do the politics in movies. Nor does the subject matter, or propaganda and/or messages embedded in some movies, have an effect on you. Well, if everyone felt that way, we could turn out the lights and all go home. But until that happens, since this is not a perfect world, folks of all colors will vehemently object to the subject matter and role models of Tyler Perry's movies and Viola Davis's role in the Help. Btw, I too read Giovanni's room because I was locked in a place in which reading was one of the only options and luxury afforded me. And black literature was passed from cell to cell. It was not my first choice nor favorite choice of black fiction. When one is locked in a cell for 23 hour, 7 days a week, it's only natural that reading and soul-searching and finding out what's really important in life is the call of the day. Thanks for the conversation

artbizzy

@CareyCarey What I am saying is that the African Diaspora is a wide and varying thing. Our presence is all over the world. So who can speak for what most of us want out of cinema. The African Diaspora is layered and complex. We can infer that most black people interested in film around the world want to see more of themselves onscreen. But what about behind the scenes? Isn't it exciting to know that a black director directed a feature film no matter what the race of the rest of the cast is? Or that a black actress such as Taraji P. Henson has a decent role in a predominantly white crime drama? Or that a black screenwriter wrote the screenplay to a movie with a multi-racial cast? We are and can be part of any area in the cinema world. As writers, producers, actors, directors, etc.

As for what I said with regards to Giovann's Room, yes it certainly was about the gay experience but it was also written by a black gay man which made me even more interested in seeing it. because someone like me who has a shared heritage with Mr. Baldwin. On the surface the book is about gay white men, a demographic at the time I read the book, due to my own unconscious prejudices (about gay black men and gay white men) I probably wouldn't have read the book but because James Baldwin wrote it and I am interested in whatever it is that black people write (as I said before if its content happens to interest me) and my world becomes a little wider and a little more compassionate and connected because I realize that I can relate to the complicated love story between these two people even though I am not white, male or gay. Of course this book turned off black readers it turned off many readers because of the content and because of the time it was written but many more people of all races and backgrounds have read it ever since. I just used that book as an example. I know it's not a film but I still think it's relevant to the conversation about what is black art? What are black images? The images we see that look representative of us or the images we produce from behind the scenes whether of black people or not. Maybe thinking about Spike Lee's Joint, Summer of Sam would help to clarify things, too. Because that was a film with a predominantly white cast, except for John Leguizamo who isn't black. It interested me more because Spike Lee wrote and directed it and it was such a departure for him. And I haven't seen Shame yet. Might see it tomorrow or sometime in the coming week. But I do know a little about from this site to say that sex addiction is certainly not just a white thing.

CareyCarey

"[CareyCarey} what a ranting fool you are… sit yo ass down somewhere" ~ Misha

Is that right? Ranting fool and "I" should sit down? Well, if that's right, what does that make you? I mean, I can tell by your paper thin rebuttal that you're young and you know little or nothing about the pimpin' game, so I've felt compelled to put you up on a little game… my delightful little blind mice. But as usual, it's takes a monumental effort to convince another person that they are walking in quicksand. That effort is complicated when said person believes their position is the right place to lay their head and other fools (just like them) are patting them on the back while saying "you go girl, show you right". Listen Misha, I am not pimping Steve McQueen (I don't know how in the hell you came to that conclusion!?)nor am I unjustly criticizing him. I am simply questioning why some folks are championing his movie SHAME? It's not a "black" movie, nor is it a movie that has messages that I nor any principled person would want to pass forward. Hey, in short, don't pull away nor run and hide when someone is trying to open your eyes to the real world. Btw, I've been a fool many times. I'll accept that tag, but unlike many, a person has to own their foolishness before they can begin to repair it. What about you? What about a time called NOW!

misha

Oh, lordy! If Nicole wasn't doing any press, folks would be talking about how McQueen and the media are ignoring her because she's black. But because Nicole is getting press, going to events with McQueen and Fassbender, it's all about them "pimping" her? *sighs* Folks, Nicole is a young, black actress who's trying to make a name for herself. If doing publicity for a critically-acclaimed movie means she's being "pimped" then I'm sure she'd love to do it more often!

Anyhow, the more I listen to McQueen, the more I like this guy. His frank, outspoken nature is so refreshing. And the fact that he insisted on Nicole being in his film? I love it!

Mark

I just think it's hilarious that people are criticizing McQueen for directing a movie with a white lead. That's insane! Instead of being allowed to tell only inner city/"black" movies, McQueen is directing whatever the hell kind of movies he wants.

As for Nicole B.'s role, please! There were only two female roles in "Shame." If anyone bothered to see the film, it would be obvious that this is not kind of role that black (or any other non-white) women usually get.

I also don't understand why people expect a Briton to conform to African-American expectations.

CareyCarey

"don't parade Nicole beharie around as a last resort because baz luhrman won't let Carey mulligan do press..don't turn this into "you helped a black actress out" Oscar pitch… It's not right.."

UT OH, I see somebody else ain't going down the yellow brick road! Yes sir, OVERHIM ain't following the rest of the Tin Men, Scarecrows and Cowardly Lions through the sleep inducing poppy fields of Mr. Steven McQueen. Come on now, say it loud "don't parade Nicole beharie around as a last resort because baz luhrman won't let Carey mulligan do press.. don't turn this into "you helped a black actress out" Oscar pitch… It's not right". But of course pimpin' ain't easy but some folks love being pimped ( I always thought that phenomenon was very strange. You know, how could someone love being used). Anyway. And then, like the strange occurrence of the abused taking on the role of the abuser, the pimped become the new pied pipers… telling everyone they see how great it is to live in The Land Of Shame. But OVERHIM ain't buying that weak game.

Steven

I watched and listen to a lot of Steve McQueen interviews so far and I think he is genuinely interested in telling whatever stories that grab his attention. I think some people need to stop looking for the next coming of Spike Lee and acceptance from mainstream Hollywood to deliver this all compelling African American story that's going to transform the landscape of filmmaking as speak. I would love to see more diverse stories about minorities being told but the only way to do that is from the ground up. Supporting DIY and indie filmmaking. I hate the "white washing" of movies like Last Airbender, Akira, and so forth or how some mainstream films misappropriate black culture but don't cast black performers.
But I digress, I can't speak on the film because I haven't seen it yet nor have seen his debut film. Overhim, I think you need to check out the interview with Elvis Mitchell and the Hollywood Reporter roundtable clip. His next film is Twelve Years a Slave and I think it's going to get him even more attention. I can't wait to see what McQueen is going to do in the future. Just give the dude a chance.

Laura

I'm not down with the "hate" that people are dishing out to McQueen because he has a white male lead actor.

If the "hate" is "why cain't the brutha get some other brutha some play so they can pay the mortgage I can understand, somewhat. I don't agree. But opportunities are limited for us, I get that.

But if its the hate because Black folks think Black folks can't or should not tell white stories, than I have major disagreement with that. I think that kind of thinking is "limited" (Glory-be I hoped I'd never say that any school of black thought is "limited").

This is what I mean. We are so use to white folks telling our stories, that we beg and plead for them to do it right. We get all hot and bothered when they get us wrong. I would say that how we see ourselves are partly shaped by the images that they have projected about us.

Also, I believe we have a double conscious. Sometimes we know white folk better then they know themselves. And more importantly they hardly tell the truth on themselves. If we empower ourselves to not only tell our stories but their stories and other people stories, I think it would open a new way of creating.

Now I don't believe for one minute that Steve McQueens was conjuring up of WEB Dubois when he set out to create Hunger and Shame. Nor do I feel that Steve McQueen's film is everybody's cup of tea, nor it should be.

However I think he opened up our story telling possibilities. And I am for one glad that. Both Hunger and Shame are good films.
(PS, I hope this is coherent because it is late night for me)

Overhim

I think he and this movie are overrated…the role was small and probably won't do very much for her career..if he wants to make an impact he will have a black female lead..but the truth is he glorifies the white experience over his own.. Why can't black artists ever get pushed to the front of the mainstream that dont display as much self hate as this guy and many others??

Think about it…

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