Yesterday, Steve McQueen was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle for 12 Years a Slave, and while that doesn’t make him a lock for the Oscar, the group’s track record of matching Academy choices is a good sign that he’ll become the first black director ever to win the coveted statuette. In the past 10 years, the NYFCC has differed from the final Oscar pick 4 times (in 2003 when they picked Sofia Coppola, 2008 when they picked Mike Leigh, 2010 when they picked David Fincher and 2012 when they picked Kathryn Bigelow).
If statistics were a real factor here, that would mean a 60% shot at McQueen winning, but the true takeaway is that the win provides a significant launchpad going into awards season.
Of course, John Singleton became the first black director to be nominated for an Oscar in 1991 with Boyz n the Hood (as well as the youngest director ever nominated at 24), and Lee Daniels was nominated in 2009 for Precious, but no black director has yet won the big prize. However, last year saw T.J. Miller become the first black director to win in the Best Documentary Feature category for Undefeated.
So this NYFCC win is intrinsically great for McQueen (a talent who deserves as much recognition as possible), and it’s also a good signpost, but we’ll have to wait for the Directors Guild’s awards to get an even stronger indication of his chances. That august body has matched the Oscar pick 9 times in the past 10 years (mismatching last year with Ben Affleck as their choice), so if McQueen wins there, he’s practically a sure thing to make history.