Last Friday, British filmmaker Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave” “Widows” “Shame”) dropped the first of five films in his new Small Axe anthology “Mangrove.” The anthology features five original films that showcase London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s. As one would expect, there’s a running theme of rampant racism and discrimination that weaves its way through these personal stories — making the release of these films all the more timely and relevant.
The first film out the gate is “Mangrove” about reluctant activist and small business owner/community staple Frank Crichlow as he takes on the racist police in Notting Hill in 1968 and becomes the face of a movement for the right to demonstrate and be heard. The film has some pretty strong parallels to 2020. At its core, this is a film about the glory in the struggle and is fraught with social tensions but an inspirational message.
Although the film starts a little scattered and disjointed, by the end, you are really wrapped up in the story and the performances. The parallel storylines eventually intertwine and that’s when things get good. And it’s pretty cool to see a slice of history that many American’s are not really familiar with — we are often feed the story that European countries’ racial history (when it comes to Black people in particular) is not as in your face as ours, at least not in the 20th/21st centuries. And I love it when films about our collective racial histories have stolen moments of joy, vibrancy and cultural revelry — as this film had. In the end, this film is about changing the narrative and giving voice to your own story — you can’t be the victim, you have to be the protagonist of your own story.
Once the story hits the trial phase, that’s where the film really gets good and sucks you in (although there were moments that lingered a little too long and felt like I had seen them before). But what really takes this film to the next level is not only the direction, but the acting performances. Shaun Parks, who plays Frank the unwitting leader, gives a strong performance. Letitia Wright who plays Black Panther member Altheia Jones gives an emotional and moving performance — she really stands out. Rochenda Sandall as Barbara Beese is great as well. And then there’s Jack Lowden (solicitor Ian MacDonald) who adds a little levity to the heavy subject matter. Once you add them all together, you’ve got a pretty film that’s well worth the time.
The next film in the line-up is “Lovers Rock.” The films are being released one-by-one, every Friday from Nov. 20th to Dec. 18th on Amazon Prime.