‘12 Years A Slave’ Director Steve McQueen Says People ‘Pulled Out’ Of The Film Because There Was A Black Lead

The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor and was a box office smash.

The 2013 film 12 Years a Slave was based on the life of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was abducted and sold into slavery. 

Steve McQueen became the first Black director to win Best Motion Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards and the film was a box office success. However, McQueen had many naysayers because the film had a Black lead, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Northup.

McQueen told Insider, "I remember people saying that movies with Black leads do not travel, and therefore, the movie wasn't going to make any money.”

He continued, “There were people who pulled out of 12 Years a Slave because they didn't think it would make any money, but the fact of the matter [is] we made over virtually 150 million dollars outside of the United States, which tells you how hungry people were for that kind of narrative."

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McQueen did name who pulled out of the film, which eventually grossed $187 million worldwide.

The 51-year-old reflected on how the film changed the trajectory for future movies with Black leads, "Just go back and look before 12 Years a Slave and after -- from a direct result of that, Moonlight was made and 'Selma' was made because it was made by the same producers. And the only reason they were able to make it was because of 12 Years a Slave' being a financial hit because they were trying to make those movies for a long time, but they couldn't until 12 Years a Slave."

McQueen famously said during his acceptance speech for Best Motion Picture of the Year at the 2014 Oscars, "Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all of the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

Watch a clip of the Insider interview below:


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