Small Axe, director Steve McQueen’s anthology collection of five films, three of which (Lovers Rock, Mangrove and Red,White and Blue) recently premiered at the New York Film Festival (NYFF), will soon be available to view for the public starting this month.
“I dedicate these films to George Floyd, and all the other Black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere,” McQueen said in May, according to a press release sent to The Root.
Here’s the breakdown of each film:
Starring Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby
Run Time: 126 minutes
In the late ’60s, Frank Crichlow, the Trinidad-born owner of a café in Notting Hill, London, increasingly found himself and his establishment the targets of white police intimidation and brutality. A meeting place for the local West Indian community as well as the area’s Black activists and intellectuals, the Mangrove restaurant was raided numerous times without any evidence of illegal activity; finally, the fed-up community took to the streets in protest, resulting in the arrests and violent treatment of several demonstrators. An epic piece of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, this vivid and gripping dramatization of these events and the resulting successful landmark 1970 trial of the defendants—who came to be known as the Mangrove Nine, and some of whom acted as their own counsel—is a stinging indictment of a system rotted by racism and a powerful portrait of resistance, passionately performed by a remarkable cast led by Shaun Parkes as Crichlow, Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LaCointe, and Malachi Kirby as Darcus Howe.
Starring Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward
Run Time: 68 minutes
A movie of tactile sensuality and levitating joy, Lovers Rock finds the always daring Steve McQueen in an ecstatic yet no less formally bold mode. The intoxicating, 1980-set Lovers Rock takes place largely over one night at a house party, where lovers-to-be dance to the reggae genre of the title. While McQueen and co-screenwriter Courttia Newland have constructed their ethereal narrative around the growing attraction between Martha (newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and a brooding stranger (Micheal Ward), the film is equally about the rapture of music—typified in the film’s swooning centerpiece set to Janet Kay’s euphoric 1979 single “Silly Games”—and the thrill and liberation of bodies in motion, miraculously photographed by Shabier Kirchner.
Red, White and Blue
Starring John Boyega
Run Time: 78 minutes
John Boyega plays real-life figure Leroy Logan, a member of the London Metropolitan Police Force who both witnessed and experienced firsthand the organization’s fundamental racism. Set in the ’80s, McQueen’s film captures Logan’s growing awareness of a system that he would one day try to dismantle from the inside, while also centering on his relationship with his father, a victim of white police brutality who initially refuses to accept his son’s decision to enter law enforcement. Red, White and Blue is richly evocative and politically charged, with an impassioned yet nuanced performance from Boyega.
Starring Sheyi Cole and Khali Best
Alex Wheatle follows the true story of award-winning writer, Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), from a young boy through his early adult years. Having spent his childhood in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family, 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 Kenya Sandi and Tamara Lawrence
Education is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy) with a fascination for astronauts and rockets. When Kingsley is pulled to the Headmaster’s office for being disruptive in class, he discovers he’s being sent to school for those with “special needs”. Distracted by working two jobs, his parents (Sharlene Whyte, Daniel Francis) are unaware of the unofficial segregation policy at play, preventing many Black children from having the education they deserve until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. Education was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.
In anticipation of the Small Axe’s upcoming release, The Root has exclusively obtained a first look at the extended trailer for the series:
“These are new types of human beings, they are not demoralized or defeated persons,” we hear in a voiceover over rich images of Black people singing with joy and battling with white supremacist structures. “They are leaders, but are deeply rooted among those they lead.”
“We mustn’t be victims but protagonists of our stories,” we hear Letitia Wright powerfully proclaim.
The powerful trailer ends with a rendition of “Small Axe” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, the lyrics of which are very much still relevant today.
Small Axe: A Collection of Five Films will be released each Friday starting Nov. 20 on Amazon Prime Video. The specific release dates for each film are listed below:
Mangrove: Friday, Nov. 20
Lovers Rock: Friday, Nov. 27
Red, White and Blue: Friday, Dec. 4
Alex Wheatle: Friday, Dec. 11
Education: Friday, Dec. 18
Correction, 11/9/2020, 11:37 a.m. ET: An earlier version of this post noted that Small Axe premiered at NYFF, but only three of the five films from the anthology premiered at the festival, so we have updated the correct information above. Also, we have updated the above text to specify that each film will be released on Fridays.