Steve McQueen's heist movie 'Widows' premieres in Toronto

Michel COMTE
1 / 2
British director Steve McQueen poses with photos of himself at the premiere of 'Widows' at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018

Director Steve McQueen returned to the limelight at the Toronto film festival Sunday with the kick-ass feminist heist movie "Widows," at a time when calls are multiplying for heftier roles for women.

It's been five years since the British director released his last movie "12 Years A Slave," which won an Academy Award for best picture, and other accolades.

His newest film, starring Viola Davis -- the first black woman to be nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for "Fences" last year -- was adapted from Lynda La Plante's 1983-85 British television series, which McQueen says "just spoke to me as a 13-year-old black boy in London."

"On screen, these four women were being judged by their appearance rather than their character," McQueen told a press conference in Toronto for the film's world premiere.

"And at that point I was too."

In the film, Viola Davis plays Veronica who lives a cushy life in Chicago bought by her partner Rawlins (Liam Neeson) robbing people.

When a job goes wrong leaving Rawlins's gang dead, a local crime boss (Brian Tyree Henry) and his muscle (Daniel Kaluuya) come looking for the money, forcing Veronica to enlist the other women who lost their partners (Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo and Elizabeth Debicki) for a heist of their own, in order to win their lives back.

"The best thing we have going for us is being who we are, because no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off," Veronica says in the film.

Rodriguez's character Linda adds: "If this whole thing goes wrong, I want my kids to know that I didn't just sit there and take it, I did something."

The film, co-written by Gillian Flynn ("Gone Girl"), also stars Jacki Weaver, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.

- 'Kicking ass' -

"These women are absolutely catapulted together in dire circumstances and I think it's a terrific metaphor for how change happens, because change happens when you're forced into it kicking and screaming and these women are forced to take ownership of their lives," Davis said.

"I certainly loved kicking ass," she added.

Cynthia Erivo, making her feature film debut, commented: "It's rare that we find a film that allows women to work together in their own individual ways.

"Each one of these women has their quirk, they're all very different and yet somehow they find connection with each other and they help each other take control of their individual lives."

Hans Zimmer, who scored the film, had actually worked on the original television series.

He described how he wanted to believe at the time that the show "was going to change the world and things were going to get good... and women were going to have a place and a voice."

But after conversing with McQueen, he felt disheartened because he realized that in fact "things hadn't gotten better, if anything they had gotten worse and more brutal and fragmented."

He said he was eager to work on McQueen's film to show women's strength, "because we're all in this together."

A dearth of good roles for women in Hollywood has in recent years precipitated a movement to call for change.

Reflecting on the lack of roles for black women in particular, Davis said: "I just feel like the narratives that are created in Hollywood right now have got to become inclusive, they have got to reflect the changing world and the changing cultures.

"I no longer want to see a movie in which the person of color is introduced in the second scene and they're the bus driver, the social worker or the lawyer and people are saying, 'At least they're part of the cast. They're not part of the main storyline but they're there,'" she said.

"It's not enough for them to just be there. I want them to be in the story."