If there’s one film you bookmark for this week, make it ‘Mangrove’ the first in a 5-part collection of films in the ‘Small Axe’ series both c0-written and directed by Oscar-winner Steve McQueen.
The Small Axe anthology tells the often untold black British experience during the late 1960s-1980s in London and is derived from a Jamaican proverb and title of a Bob Marley song from The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. The message in the first film ‘Mangrove’ is clear: Small voices of dissent can successfully challenge voices in power.
It tells the true story of the trial of West London’s Mangrove 9. Nine peaceful protesters, arrested on August 9, 1970 charged with incitement to riot during a local demonstration in Notting Hill while standing up to police brutality and violent systematic police raids on their beloved Mangrove restaurant on All Saints Road (frequented by Bob Marley himself who would drop by to discuss politics and tuck into Caribbean favourites).
Consider that this was the year that Enoch Powell made his ‘Rivers of Blood‘ hate speech directed firmly against the immigration from the Commonwealth and Windrush communities. It can be seen as a response to the Race Relations Bill of 1968 and clearly calls for incitement to violence throughout its 45 minutes of hateful vitriol. Fast forward 50 years and you’ll be shocked to find that BBC Radio 4 marked the speech’s ‘golden anniversary’ in 2018 with a digital remastering of this loathsome content.
The UK has a terrible, silent past of systematic and institutional racism that simply doesn’t make it into the school curriculum and we should ask ourselves why. From slavery, imperialism, deep rooted pride in ‘The Empire’ and its conquests, the shocking Stephen Lawrence inquiry to Theresa May’s Windrush scandal, racism is still very much present in today’s ‘polite’ society. Just read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race” for an eye-opening education. Mangrove, and the West Indian immigrant experience in 1970s London is an important black British history lesson.
The performances are standout from the cast, all of whom inject passion and urgency into their character’s unjust accusations, most notably Malachi Kirby who plays Darcus Howe, the eloquent and powerful polemicist and Shaun Parkes who plays Frank Crichlow, long suffering owner and restaurateur of the Mangrove who bristles with rage and bears the torch of hope for the West London community that calls the Mangrove both a refuge and a home.
This being a Steve McQueen film, every detail has been meticulously researched throwing us deep into the belly of 1970s London, from the music, activism, and shocking violence that the residents of Portnall Road had to endure on a regular basis. Half the film’s narrative takes place in court (the landmark trial itself lasted 55 days at The Old Bailey and was the first judicial acknowledgement of racism within the Metropolitan Police force) and the viewer is left in no doubt as to who the innocent party is. Most shocking are the epilogue titles where we learn that the Mangrove was subject to vicious police raids for the next eighteen years before Chrichlow was awarded compensation in 1989 by the Met Police.
Binge-watching this isn’t but important viewing it is and the characters will remain with you long after the credits have rolled. I cannot wait for the second instalment – Lover’s Rock – which I’ll be watching tonight.