A cinematic call for truth and justice. The director Steve McQueen and his team remember the making of '' 12 Years a Slave.''

'' So, what do you want to do next?'' The question shadowed the director Steve McQueen's first tour of Hollywood, in late summer 2008. 

His debut film ''Hunger,'' a mesmerizing and unsettling character study of the Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands, had electrified audiences in Cannes that May and won the prize for best first feature.

In rounds of meetings in Los Angeles - McQueen's first time in the city - executives and producers on studio lots and in restaurants cast themselves as allies-in-waiting, eager to help a visionary new talent mount his second picture.

McQueen had thought his follow-up would tackle another formidable historical ligure, perhaps the African American singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson, or the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and political dissident Fela Kuti.

But after the Hollywood meetings, he told his agents that he wanted to make a film about slavery.

The decision, he said in a recent interview, had been inspired in part by the meetings themselves - an ineffable look he'd seen on people's faces when they first laid eyes on him.

'' They didn't know that I was Black,'' said McQueen, who was born outside London to a Trinidadian mother and a Grenadian father. '' I think because I had made a movie like ''Hunger,'' these white guys didn't think that they would be meeting with a Black person.

To McQueen, the mistaken assumption about his identity - to say nothing of the carelessness of not having bothered to look him up - was evidence of deep and unexamined prejudice.

The legacy of slavery had haunted him since childhood; his mother kept a family tree that raced her ancestors back to Ghana. But, in Britain, his education on the subject had included ''Roots'' and little else.

In America, a country with an ample history of anti Black violence, he sensed a similar strain of mass amnesia.

'' There was a certain sense of nonresponsibility, like it was something deep in the past,'' he said. " I wanted to hold people to account, to say, ''Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute - this happened here. ''

'' 12 YEARS OF SLAVE, '' McQueen's version of a call to arms, was released 10 years ago this month. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o - in her first film feature role - and written by John Ridley.

It was based on the real-life autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was kidnapped in 1861, enslaved and later escaped.

The World Students Society thanks author Reggie Ugwu.


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