Movie review: Small Axe – Mangrove

Steve McQueen

MangroveIs Small Axe a movie, a series, or what?. It is a British anthology film series, according to  Wikipedia. But IMDB refers to it as a TV miniseries.

Regardless, it was created and directed by Steve McQueen. Not the dead American actor, but the black British director. “The anthology consists of five films that tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s.”

It’s been showing on BBC One in the UK and on Amazon Prime Video in the US. “The title references a proverb – ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ – that was popularized by Bob Marley in his 1973 song ‘Small Axe.'”

Mangrove, the first Small Axe film refers to “the Mangrove restaurant… and the 1971 trial of the Mangrove Nine.” The eatery was located in Notting Hill, but Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are nowhere in sight. It was 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 (Shaun Parkes) and the local community take to the streets in a peaceful protest in 1970. When nine men and women, including Frank and leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot, a highly publicized trial ensues…”

Mangrove also stars Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, and Jack Lowden. You may recognize Wright, who portrayed Shuri in Black Panther and the last two Avengers movies.

Yes, it does

If you didn’t know about how rampant racism works, you’d find the police blowback over a guy who just wanted to start a Caribbean restaurant unbelievable. Indeed, in one of only two unfavorable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes out of 122, John Anderson of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “The brutality visited upon the Black characters is so extreme that you may find it hard to enter the story. This is not to say that what’s depicted didn’t happen. But as drama, it amounts to overkill.”

It’s difficult for some to believe that a place where people gathered and felt accepted could be a threat to the established order. Unfortunately, the events here do parallel incidents that have happened in the United States, some a few decades ago, others more recently.

Mangrove is a very fine film. I would be surprised if Wright and maybe others will be nominated for awards. McQueen’s real problem, based on what I’ve been reading, is that he may be in competition with his other Small Axe films. Episodes. Whatever they are.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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