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Steve McQueen’s new film sheds light on cancer rates in Black men

The director, well-known for his Oscar winning film ‘12 Years a Slave’, aims to remove the stigma around prostate cancer and the risk it poses for Black men in particular.

Steve McQueen’s new short film stars Morgan Freeman, Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Ward. Titled Embarrassed, it sets the goal of increasing awareness about high rates of prostate cancer in the Black male community.

According to research, 1 in 4 Black men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. This risk is fifty percent higher than other ethnic groups, and increases once men reach the age of 45 and when there is a history of prostate cancer in the family.

Though the cause of this increased risk remains unknown to health professionals, scientific research to discover why Black men are more prone to the disease is ongoing.

McQueen uses four award-winning male actors for the film, asking them to recite these statistics to draw attention to the subject of prostate cancer. It also encourages men to discuss it more openly with loved ones – and to visit their doctor for check-ups.

The two-minute-long film premiered at Tate Britain last week, revealing to audiences that a shocking 1 in 12 Black men will die from the disease.

Most never have any symptoms, only beginning to feel unwell once the cancer begins spreading to nearby or other areas of the body. Standard visits to a GP will not include a check for the disease, as a visit to a specialist doctor is required.

However, precautionary testing with a specialist doctor has proven prostate cancer can be caught early and treated. As Idris Elbra states in the film, the disease is survivable.

Central to the film’s message is to encourage conversation about prostate cancer. But it also intends to urge the UK government to increase testing frequency for groups with the highest risk – in this case, Black men.

Healthcare systems around the world already conduct routine health investigations for other vulnerable demographics, such as check-ups for HPV and cervical cancer in women over the age of 26.

Steve McQueen, born in London, is well known for tackling difficult subject matter in his films. He has collected a Turner Prize, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Academy Award for his work – to name a few.

He’s not only directed films addressing the history of slavery, hunger strikes, and addiction, but has now harnessed his filmmaking capabilities to change men’s attitudes toward their personal wellbeing.

Reflective of his filmmaking repertoire, McQueen was able to bring some of the industry’s most esteemed Black male stars to present the important realities of prostate cancer in their own communities.

Factoring in that two thirds of men reported avoiding going to the doctor as long as possible, this kind of open discussion is long overdue. This is paired with the knowledge that 37 percent of men withhold information at doctors’ visits, with health professionals saying this prevents detection of life-threatening issues in their early stages.

Like most things to do with health, raising the subject with loved ones can be uncomfortable. Asking a father if he’s looking after his health might seem difficult or even intrusive.

But as Morgan Freeman says in the film, ‘don’t let embarrassment stop you from having this important conversation. You may save someone’s life.’


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