Steve McQueen reflects on ’12 Years a Slave,’ says ‘it wouldn’t have been made without Obama being president’

The filmmaker also revealed that the Oscar-winning project was not screened at the White House that year.

Steve McQueen is reflecting on his acclaimed film, “12 Years a Slave,” nearly 10 years after its release. At the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2023, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker talked about the movie and why certain circumstances, including Obama’s presidency, made such a production possible.

McQueen broke down the history of the film, including that it was not screened at the White House because of the cultural climate at the time, Variety reports

“It was just after that situation with Skip Gates,” McQueen said. Obama’s comments about the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates led to controversy, causing a national conversation about policing and racial profiling.

2nd Annual Academy Museum Gala - Arrivals
Director Steve McQueen said his critically acclaimed “!2 Years a Slave” (2013) was not screened at the White House because of the cultural climate at the time. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

“So, at that time, everything Obama was doing was being scrutinized,” he continued, “and that was the theory of why ‘12 Years a Slave’ was not projected — 99 years after ‘The Birth of a Nation’ — at the White House.”

Obama’s presidency made the film possible, however. “But then again, ‘12 Years a Slave’ wouldn’t have been made without Obama being president, that’s for sure,” he said. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t have gotten the money. I think the fact that people wanted to illustrate that particular time of history when there was a Black president made the movie possible.”

The film won for Best Picture at the “86th Annual Academy Awards.” Based on the slave memoir of the same name by Solomon Northrup, “12 Years A Slave” depicts his life as a free Black man who was sold into slavery for 12 years during the 1800s. The film was also a launchpad of sorts for Lupita Nyong’o, who took home the Best Supporting Actress award.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!