From acclaimed director Steve McQueen, Small Axe is an anthology of 5 films spanning several decades in and around the UK. Following the vibrant and differentiating Afro-Caribbean communities of London, each film is a time capsule of historical and fictional events, focused through the lens of the African diaspora.
Mangrove is first in the series. Telling the true story of The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, the film focuses on the contentious and targeted harassment of the Metropolitan Police against the local Caribbean community meeting spot. After the restaurant is raided multiple times and Black youth are beaten and placed into police custody without provocation, a large march is undertaken. The purpose: to place a spotlight on the violence against Black people by the police. What follows are arrests of the organizers and a year-long trial with the accused facing 10 years in prison. With Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby leading the cast, Mangrove is a fascinating look into the various civil rights fights led by African-British people.
Lovers Rock is the romance of the series. Showcasing the fresh bloom of potential love between two youngsters, its underlying theme is the love Jamaicans have for music, friends, and family. McQueen is bold in his direction of this film, often eschewing dialogue for long stretches of playing music (not scored sound). It can be jarring after the often dialogue-heavy Mangrove. If one is searching for the ‘why’ in this film, it won’t necessarily be found.
The most well-rounded and cohesive of the series, Red, White, and Blue stars John Boyega as Leroy Logan, a man who believes he can make a difference. Bored as a research scientist (and a Ph.D. to boot), Logan is talked into becoming a police officer. Thinking he can be the bridge between a very wary Black community and the police department, Leroy very quickly finds that the department is not at all interested in fostering goodwill or relationships with anyone non-white. Surrounded by racists and white nationalists, he has a choice to make: push through or give it all up.
The final 2 films in the series (Alex Wheatle and Education) will be profiled next week. Stay tuned to this space.
Watch Small Axe on Amazon Prime Video