McQueen made the disclosure Monday night at the Hidden Heroes tribute event in New York, saying that he had wanted to make a Robeson movie for the past six years.
"His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after 'Hunger,'" McQueen said at the event, covered by The Guardian. "But I didn't have the power, I didn't have the juice."
The New York event is held by the Andrew Goodman Foundation, named after one of the civil rights workers killed in Mississippi in 1964.
McQueen, a London native, first became aware of Robeson when reading a newspaper story about the activist supporting miners in Wales. He also said Belafonte, 87, is involved in an undisclosed capacity. The pair met earlier this year at the New York Film Critics awards.
Four Stars International has been attempting in recent years to mount a Robeson biopic. Vondie Curtis-Hall and South African director Darrell Roodt have been attached to helm and David Harewood was on board at one point to play the lead.
Robeson, born in 1898, was a singer, actor and orator from the 1920s through the 1950s best known for his acting in "Othello" and his singing of "Ol' Man River." Robeson's political activism brought him to the attention of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, leading to the revocation of his passport for eight years despite his contributions as an entertainer to the Allied forces during WWII.
Robeson died in 1976.
McQueen was nominated for the directing Oscar for "12 Years a Slave." He was also a producer on film, which won the Best Picture Oscar, along with Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, jeremy Kleiner and Anthony Katagas.