From Lovers Rock To Mangrove, Everything You Need To Know About Steve McQueen’s Small Axe Film Series
Isn't it nice, after a year of overdosing on streaming services, to get something seriously quality on our televisions? Steve McQueen's anthology series Small Axe is just that. Airing on BBC (and still available on iPlayer) we kicked things off with the exceptionally moving Mangrove and followed with Lovers Rock. Lucky for us, there's still three more films to come
Whether you're intrigued by the premise or you organically stumbled upon the series' first film, Mangrove, here's everything you need to know about the film series, from plot primers to premiere dates, and the greater meaning behind it all.
What is Small Axe?
Small Axe is an anthology series of five films created by Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Widows). All of the films are "anchored in the West Indian experience in London," McQueen explained in a statement about the project, and each film is set between the late 1960s and mid-1980s.
Small Axe "is a celebration of all that that community has succeeded in achieving against the odds," he wrote. "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!"
What the term “Small Axe” means
The title of the anthology, Small Axe, is taken from the proverb, "If you are the big tree, we are the small axe." In his statement, McQueen said that he originally envisioned the project as a TV series, but it developed into an anthology film series. "I realised these stories had to stand alone as original films yet at the same time be part of a collective," he said. "After all, Small Axe refers to an African proverb that means together we are strong."
The proverb is known for being used for Bob Marley's song "Small Axe" in which he sings, "So if you are the big tree/We are the small axe/Ready to cut you down/To cut you down."
Every major actor involved in Small Axe
McQueen is the director of all five films, and he also co-wrote all of them. Three were written along with screenwriter Alastair Siddons (2018's Tomb Raider) and two with author and playwright Courttia Newland.
The cast of the films include some recognisable faces, including John Boyega (Star Wars), Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Malachi Kirby (Black Mirror), Michael Ward (The Old Guard), and Alex Jennings (The Crown).
There are five Small Axe movies
Here's what you need to know about each one and when you can catch them on Amazon.
Mangrove tells the true story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parks), the owner of a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill, who joins up with Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), the leader of the British Black Panthers and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), to peacefully protest after his restaurant is repeatedly raided by racist police. These three, along with six others, end up getting charged for inciting a riot, which leads to a publicizsd trial where they become known as the Mangrove Nine.
Named after the reggae subgenre, Lovers Rock is a love story set at a party in 1980. "Such parties took place in homes and were born out of necessity when Black Londoners were un-welcome to revel in white nightclubs," reads the official description. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Michael Ward star.
Red, White and Blue
BBC One, Nov 29
John Boyega stars as Leroy Logan in the true story Red, White and Blue. Leroy decides to leave his job as a scientist to become a police officer in light of his father (Steve Toussaint) being cruelly beaten by police. He hopes to make a difference by being a rare representative for his own community, but faces racism himself within the force.
BBC One, Dec 6
Alex Wheatle is a novelist, who joined the writers room for Small Axe, only for his own story to become one of the subjects. This biographical film shows Wheatle's early life, including when he was imprisoned following the Brixton Uprising in 1981, which was born out of a protest against police brutality in the district located in South London. Sheyi Cole stars as the writer.
In Education, a 12-year-old boy (Kenyah Sandy) is told by his school that he needs to be transferred to a special needs program. Soon, his mother (Sharlene Whyte) finds out that he is actually being sent away due to discrimination against West Indian students. A group of West Indian women fight back against this injustice.
This schedule gives viewers plenty of time to sit with the movies before moving on to the next one. And you'll probably want to. Considering the insightful topics, Small Axe should give you plenty to think about.