Steve McQueen Blasts ‘Blatant Racism’ in U.K. Film and TV Industry: ‘I’m Fed Up’

"It’s not just about Black people working on Black films," McQueen wrote in a new op-ed. "It’s about Black people working in film and television, period."
Steve McQueen'Widows' film premiere, Chicago, USA - 13 Oct 2018
Steve McQueen
Cindy Barrymore/REX/Shutterstock

British film director Steve McQueen shared an op-ed in The Observer decrying what he sees as “blatant racism” within the film and TV industries of the United Kingdom. His films, from Best Picture Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave” to “Shame” and “Widows,” have explored race and privilege. While those three films McQueen made in the States, returning to the United Kingdom to work on his upcoming anthology series “Small Axe” proved an eye-opening experience.

“Last year, I visited a TV-film set in London. It felt like I had walked out of one environment, the London I was surrounded by, into another, a place that was alien to me. I could not believe the whiteness of the set. I made three films in the States and it seems like nothing has really changed in the interim in Britain. The U.K. is so far behind in terms of representation, it’s shameful,” McQueen wrote.

“Small Axe” consists of six films that McQueen said tackle the Black experience between the 1960s and the 1980s. (Two of those films were featured in the Cannes Film Festival selection.) But McQueen, in the op-ed, said the diversity in front of the camera wasn’t reflected behind it.

“We tried very hard on ‘Small Axe’: we created our own training scheme with one trainee per department. But, in terms of heads of departments, it was just myself and a couple of other people who were black British,” he wrote. “The stark reality is that there is no infrastructure to support and hire BAME crew. And there is no infrastructure because there hasn’t been enough will or urgency to put it in place. We really need to do much, much better.”

McQueen has been vocal about the need for diversity overseas before; back in January, he slammed the BAFTAs for their lack of recognition for minority talent.

In The Observer op-ed, McQueen continued, “The fundamental issue is that we need to fast track training and access for young talented kids, not just young talented white kids. We did our best on ‘Small Axe,’ but it was not good enough. The culture of the industry has to change. It’s just not healthy. It’s wrong. And yet, many people in the industry go along with it as if it is normal. It’s not normal. It is anything but normal. It’s blindingly, obviously wrong. It’s blatant racism. Fact. I grew up with it. I know it. And not nearly enough is being done about it.”

McQueen also echoed a sentiment shared by many who are calling out the lack of diversity in Hollywood right now. “It’s not just about black people working on black films, it’s about black people working in film and television, period,” he wrote.

Read the full op-ed over at The Observer.

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