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Steve McQueen at the 2014 Oscar Nominees Luncheon

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The 2014 Oscar Nominees Luncheon took place Feb. 10 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. Nominees gathered to have lunch, pose for photos, receive their official Academy Award nomination certificate, and do interviews. (The 86th annual Oscar ceremony takes place March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC has the live U.S. telecast of the show at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST.) Here is what this Oscar nominee said when doing a brief press conference interview in the Oscar Nominees Luncheon’s press room.

STEVE McQUEEN

Nominated for:
Best Picture
Best Director
(“12 Years a Slave”)

The book “12 Years a Slave” has become a bestseller after the movie was released. Do you feel the book and the movie are a teaching moment for the world?

For me, it was always my ambition to get this book into schools, from day one when I read the book for the first time, and working with people in the U.K. and working with people in the U.S. to try and get this done. To unearth someone like Solomon Northup, to unearth an American hero, which was lost for 150 years, it gives me great pride that we made this film which is not bad, and we’ve resurrected this novel, and everyone here no knows his name throughout the world, which is fantastic.

You’ve had to battle this perception that “12 Years a Slave” is too hard to watch because of its scenes of brutality against slaves. Do you feel like you’re winning the battle?

Oh, for sure. Look at the box office here. Look at the box office in Europe. We’ve passed the $100 million mark [worldwide]. That is not a question to raise anymore. It was at the beginning, because that’s what the critics were possibly predicting. “A great movie but difficult to watch.”

It just shows you that audiences are interested in challenging films. Audiences are interested in films that give them a perspective of their history and where they are now and hopefully where they can be in the future. Slavery was never abolished; it was deregulated. There are still 21 million slaves living today, as we speak.

Are you having any fun during this awards season?

Oh yeah! Plenty! This movie very possibly early on I wouldn’t have done. I wouldn’t have gone around and done this [awards circuit]. But someone told me, “Steve, this movie is more important than you.” And I understood that, and I took that with me.

And it’s been great. What’s happening is a great debate has been occurring about something that was lost for 150 years. So every Q&A I’ve done has almost been like a town hall meeting: passionate, vital, present. So I’ve had such a great time.

Which scene in “12 Years a Slave” was the most heart-wrenching to you?

That wasn’t necessarily the case. We came together as a group of filmmakers — catering, sound department, lighting department, grips, gaffers, electricians — a foundation of people, a family that came together to make this film. We as a group made the movie, so it wasn’t at all a burden.

Yes, there were hard scenes, but as a collective, we came together to make this film. So it wasn’t at all difficult. It was an honor to represent Solomon Northup’s story.

For more info: Academy Awards website

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