Steven McQueen’s Small Axe Films examines the Black experience in London during the 1960’s-1980s.
I was channel surfing one night or streaming surfing if that is even a thing? I came upon a short film anthology on Amazon Prime called "Small Axe" films. The title caught my eye, as well as the actors I loved like Letitia Wright (Black Panther), John Boyega (Star Wars), and Lupita Nyongo ( Black Panther ). The term small axe comes from an African proverb that Bob Marley made famous in his song of the same title, which means "the little people can bring down the mighty."
As I watched the trailer and read about the series's films, I became intrigued and eager to watch. Steve McQueen has presented a fantastic masterpiece not seen before in cinema. Each of the films in this anthology series touches upon Britain's West Indian immigrant experience from the 1960s-1980s. Most movies set in Britain I have seen touch on the royal family or lower white working-class people struggling. It is refreshing to see the Black experience in another country dealing with similar American themes like protest, classism, racism, and community.
One of my favorite films in this series is called Mangrove. This film follows the true story of Frank Critchlow (Shaun Parks), the Trindianian owner of the Mangrove Restaurant in West London. This restaurant was the meeting place for Black Panther groups, activists, musicians, and other community activists who protested police brutality by the Bobbies (London police). After one final clash with the Bobbies, Frank and other activist groups went on trial in 1971 as their legal defense team putting the police force on trial for harassment, murder, racism, and other crimes against the West Indian Community.
This film delivers an emotional and powerful message from actors such as Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and Shaun Parks. Still, Steve McQueen's use of music against the backdrop of the film is outstanding. The reggae music of the 1960s-1970s adds even more depth to the story. One of my favorite songs in this film is "54-65 Was My Number" by Toots and Maytals. This song has been covered numerous times and featured in television shows such as Narcos: Mexico.
Another story in this five-part series that stuck out to me was Red, White, and Blue. In this film, John Boyega stars as Leroy Logan, the first Black officer in the London Police Department. But being the first came with a lot of trials and tribulations, as you can imagine. During the 1980s, most of the police force in London were white males, and some did not take to Mr. Logan's introduction warmly. This film showcases the hazing, racism, loneliness, and violence Leroy Logan encountered on the police force. Nevertheless, he persevered and formed the National Black Police Association in 1998 and helped incorporate a diverse department.
So why did Steve McQueen create and direct this series, and why now? According to Observer.com, he saw a want, necessity, and a need for stories like this. The idea for this series was in the works over a decade ago from his debut film "Hunger." He originally wanted it to be part of a television series spanning the 1960s, 70, and 80s. Still, He decided a five-part miniseries would be a better fit for each story to be told. The stories in this film are inspired by true stories of activists, authors, police officers, and McQueen's personal life experiences growing up in London. Small Axe films are an Amazon Prime and BBC film production now streaming on Prime.