Following on from his critically acclaimed film ’12 Years a Slave’, Steve McQueen is back with a new film series: ‘Small Axe’. The five-part film series explores the lives of people in the London’s West Indian Communities, telling stories of strong fought victories in the face of racism.
This article focuses on the first film in the series, titled ‘Mangrove’. In just over two hours the film delves into the true story of the Mangrove 9 who were arrested by police in 1970.
The film recounts the story of Frank Crichlow, played by Shaun Parks who owned Notting Hill’s Mangrove restaurant and was often described as the ‘frontline of the community’ for black people living in the area. However, two days before Christmas in December 1969, Kensington and Chelsea council withdrew Mangroves license to be an all-night café and, with most business being after midnight, this was a hard hit to the restaurant.
Following on from this, Crichlow experienced pressure and raids from the police and, after gaining support from the local Caribbean community and British Black Panthers, the ‘Action Committee for the Defence of Mangrove’ was set up and protests were organised.
On a Sunday in August in 1970 the march began. The crowd, who were mostly from the Caribbean communities in Notting Hill, Brixton, and Islington marched and faced resistance from police resulting in some fighting breaking out. Nine people were arrested and the name ‘the Mangrove Nine’ gathered momentum. All nine were faced with riot charges that were initially dismissed and then brought to the Old Bailey, although they were eventually acquitted on all counts.
The second half of the film focuses on this legal battle between the ‘Mangrove Nine’ and the police. This is extremely important to highlight as the case regarding the ‘Mangrove Nine’ and the result of the individuals all being acquitted has been said to be the first judicial acknowledgement of racism in the Met Police.
After the death of George Floyd and the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement, now seems as good a time as any to not only highlight the atrocities and discrimination that black people in the UK as well around the world have faced, but also celebrate their lives. Steve McQueen’s drama does this well by engaging on a personal level with the characters whilst not ignoring the bigger picture of the discrimination and racism they faced.
The creative arts have honed it on these issues and this new drama film series is just another example of an informative, but also a captivating way to learn about racial injustices and discrimination black people have faced, and still face today.