Sir Steve Rodney McQueen KBE is a British filmmaker and video artist.

Steve McQueen Aprillamb, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

McQueen was born in London in 1969 to Grenadian mother and a Trinidadian father, his parents both having migrated to England. He grew up in Ealing, West London and went to Drayton Manor High School. He has spoken about being marginalized in his school days not only by the colour of his skin but by his dyslexia and lazy eye to which he said saw him get “put to one side very quickly.” The new head of his former school has since admitted to there being institutional racism at that time.

Despite his hardships at Drayton he went on take A-level art at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, then studied art and design at Chelsea College of Arts and then fine art at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he first became interested in film.

McQueen’s highly successful career started with short films and visual art which he says was influenced by the likes of Andy Warhol and he would often star in his films himself. As he moved into feature films they were met by critical acclaim and his first Hunger, about the 1981 Irish hunger strike, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen received the Caméra d’Or (first-time director) Award at Cannes, the first British director to win the award. The film was also awarded the inaugural Sydney Film Festival Prize and the 2008 Diesel Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The awards didn’t stop there McQueen went on to become the first black filmmaker to win the Academy award for best picture for 12 years a slave an adaptation of Solomon Northup‘s 1853 slave narrative memoir. The film also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director.

For his artwork, McQueen has received the Turner Prize, the highest award given to a British visual artist. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2002 Birthday HonoursCommander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to the visual arts and was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to film. McQueen has been twice listed in the Powerlist Top 10 of the most influential Black Britons.

In 2019, it was announced that Small Axe, an anthology series of five films created and directed by McQueen, would be released on BBC One and Amazon Prime Video.The series focuses on “five stories set within London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the early ’80s”.Three films in the series premiered at the New York Film Festival, receiving critical acclaim.

The anthology was a particularly personal project for Steve McQueen, as it portrays the larger community that he grew up in. They are films he felt should have been made “35 years ago, 25 years ago, but they weren’t”.

There’s no way anyone would have given me – or anybody else – any money at that time to make a film about the Mangrove Nine. You were not welcome… A lot of people said to me: “Why did you not do this at the beginning of your film career?” But I couldn’t have because I didn’t have the maturity then, I didn’t have the distance, I didn’t have the strength. I needed to do other things before I could come back to me.

— Steve McQueen in an interview with David Olusoga in Sight & Sound[62]

To close the Anthology, McQueen chose to base the final film, Education, on a story from his own life.