Academy Award-winning writer-director Steve McQueen’s anthology collection Small Axe. It features Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, and John Boyega, who you can catch on Amazon Prime.
Small Axe is a gripping and ambitious anthology that vividly captures London’s West Indian community from 1968-1985. The five individual films are powerful. And while they’re set in the late 60’s to mid 80’s will definitely resonate with what is going on in our world today.
Here is a short description of each film. And then, check out the interviews with John Boyega (Red, White and Blue), Letitia Wright (Mangrove), Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby (Mangrove), and Amarah- Jae St. Aubyn (Lover’s Rock)
Starring Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby
Mangrove centers on Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant, Mangrove. It’s a lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists. In a reign of racist terror, the local police raid Mangrove time after time, making Frank and the local community take to the streets in peaceful protest in 1970. Nine men and women are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot. They include Frank and leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby). A highly publicized trial ensues, leading to hard-fought win for those fighting against discrimination.
Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost in Space), and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star. They share the screen alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), and Sam Spruell (Snow White and the Huntsmen). Other cast members include Gershwyn Eustache (The Gentleman), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral). Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Miserables), and Gary Beadle (Summer of Rockets) also make appearances. Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.
Starring Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward
Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love at a Blues party in 1980. The film is an ode to the romantic reggae genre called “Lovers Rock” and to the Black youth. They found freedom and love in its sound in London house parties because they were unwelcome in white nightclubs. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Dr Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), and Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star. Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby make their screen debuts. Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.
Red, White and Blue
Starring John Boyega
Red, White and Blue tells the true story of Leroy Logan, a young forensic scientist with a yearning to do more than his solitary laboratory work. When he sees his father assaulted by two policemen, he finds himself driven to revisiting a childhood ambition to become a police officer; an ambition borne from the naïve hope of wanting to change racist attitudes from within. First, Leroy has to face the consequences of his father’s disapproval. He also faces the blatant racism he finds in his new role as a despised yet exemplary Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force. John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. Red, White and Blue was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.
Starring Sheyi Cole and Jonathan Jules
Alex Wheatle follows the true story of award-winning writer, Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), from a young boy through his early adult years. He spent his childhood in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family. And he finally finds not only a sense of community for the first time in Brixton, but his identity and ability to grow his passion for music and DJ’ing. When he is thrown in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, he confronts his past and sees a path to healing. Sheyi Cole stars opposite Jonathan Jules. Alex Wheatle was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.
Starring Kenyah Sandy and Sharlene Whyte
Education is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley, a boy with a fascination for astronauts and rockets. Kingsley is called to the Headmaster’s office for disruptive behavior in class. And he is shocked to discover his transfer to a school for those with “special needs”. Distracted by working two jobs, his parents are unaware of what was an unofficial segregation policy at play. That policy prevented many Black children from having the education they deserve. That’s until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. Newcomer Kenyah Sandy stars opposite Sharlene Whyte (We Hunt Together, Casualty), Daniel Francis (Once Upon A Time, Homefront), Tamara Lawrance (The Long Song, Kindred) and Josette Simon (Wonder Woman, Silent Witness, Law & Order: UK).
Steve McQueen discusses the series that is worth a read before you watch this gripping and powerful series of films.
“The seed of Small Axe was sown 11 years ago, soon after my first film, Hunger. Initially, I had conceived of it as a TV series, but as it developed, I realized these stories had to stand alone as original films yet at the same time be part of a collective. After all, Small Axe refers to an African proverb that means together we are strong. The anthology, anchored in the West Indian experience in London, is a celebration of all that that community has succeeded in achieving against the odds. To me, it is a love letter to Black resilience, triumph, hope, music, joy and love as well as to friendship and family. Oh, and let’s not forget about food too!
“Although all five films take place between the late 60s and mid 80s, they are just as much a comment on the present moment as they were then. They are about the past, yet they are very much concerned with the present. A commentary on where we were, where we are and where we want to go. These are all our stories. I feel personally touched by each and every one of them. My five senses were awoken writing with Courttia Newland and Alastair Siddons. Images, smells, textures and old customs came flooding back.
“When the Cannes Film Festival selected Mangrove and Lovers Rock earlier this year, I dedicated both to George Floyd and all the other Black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are in the US, UK and elsewhere. As the proverb goes, ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.'”
Bonnie Laufer spoke with John Boyega (Red, White & Blue), Letitia Wright (Mangrove), Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby (Mangrove) and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn (Lover’s Rock) – check out the interviews in the playlist below.