Steve McQueen (Britain, 1969), the son of a Grenadian mother and a Trinidadian father, debuted with silent black-and-white films such as
Bear (1993) and
The experimental video Drumroll (1998) was three films in one, meant to
be projected on three walls.
His first feature-length films were powerful sociopolitical dramas:
Hunger (2008) and
12 Years a Slave (2013), an adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir (1853), boasts an
impeccable period reconstruction, almost baroque. The story is told in
a relatively matter-of-factual manner, mostly not melodramatic.
The ending is the only melodramatic scene.
Sullivan is a good honest famlily man, an educated black man in the north that is free from slavery.
An acclaimed violinist,
while his wife and children are away, he is approached by impresarios who want
him to perform in Washington.
He performs and it is a success but at night they make him drink a drug
and he wakes up in the morning chained like a slave and treated like one.
He is taken to the south, renamed Platt and sold like a slave by an elegant
slave trader who has no scruples separating a mother from her children.
Sullivan is beaten every time he claims to be a kidnapped free man.
He is bought by a plantation owner. He proves his intelligence while the
mother deprived of her children, Eliza, also born a free woman, keeps crying
day and night. Platt comes to respect the slaver who treats them humanely but
Eliza reminds him that the slaver must have certainly realized tht Platt is an
educated free man and nonetheless keeps him as a slave.
Eliza is eventually sold away. One day Sullivan rebels to the arrogance of a
white supervisor and he is almost hanged. He is saved only because he is valuable
property but the slaver has to sell him quickly before the evil man murders
Platt; and the only buyer has a reputation for being a bastard.
Instead of being a carpenter Platt/Sullivan is now a cotton picker.
He new slaver humiliates his own wife in front of the slaves. She is correctly
jealous of a pretty slave girl whom her husband routinely rapes.
Another black woman, who is now free,
advises the little girl to accept the affair.
Patsy does not want to, and instead asks Platt to kill her. Platt gets to meet a white man who is enslaved for debts and asks for his help to deliver a letter.
Instead the man betrays him. Sullivan calls him a drunk and a liar to save
A slave dies of hard labor and is summarily buried. Another white man becomes
friend with Sullivan/Platt: Bass has mixed feelings about slavery.
When Patsy disappears for a few hours, the slaver goes mad.
When she returns, he orders her flogged by Platt.
Patsy tells Platt that she'd rather be flogged by him than by their slaver.
The jealous wife watches satisfied.
Sullivan begs Bass to send a letter to his friends.
At last a friend arrives with a sheriff.
Platt is recognized as Sullivan and he is taken from the slaver who tries in
vin to protest his ownership of the black.
Platt promises Patsy to come back for her.
He is Sullivan again, dressed in nice clothes amid nice people.
Back home after so many years he meets his grandson, named after him.
Widows (2018) is an adaptation of the 1983 British television series.