Since showing the ailing body of Bobby Sands, the IRA activist who died in 1981 after his hunger strike, in Hunger (2008), Steve McQueen is dedicated to forcing the gaze to what he would rather ignore: money rot and addiction to sex in Shame, the history of slavery in the United States in 12 Years a Slave. What he shows in the five films of Small Ax (which borrows its title from a song by Bob Marley), produced for the BBC and posted in France on the Salto platform, is also one of the blind spots in the history of English cinema. This time, it is no longer just a question of provoking confusion and questioning, but also – above all – of celebrating. Celebrate the history, culture and struggles of the West Indian community in the United Kingdom, born out of what has come to be known as the ‘Windrush Generation’, named after the first ship to bring immigrants to a land in 1948. bloodless metropolis, ravaged by bombardments.
That they carry out a historic trial (Mangrove), or evoke the enchanted night of a young woman who escaped the supervision of her parents (Lovers Rock), the five films of Small Ax have in common the assurance of a look at the same time passionate and lucid on a story that the cinema has until now almost completely ignored, and the precision of a direction of actors which highlights dozens of actors until now. here maintained, with a few exceptions (Letitia Wright, John Boyega), on the fringes of British cinema. But to each of them Steve McQueen imparts his own aesthetic, deploying, almost incidentally, the full extent of his talents as a director. Reason why the five films of Small Ax are listed here one by one.
In 1970 Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill, London, and eight of his clients and friends appeared in Old Bailey court. The Mangrove had been the subject of repeated police raids, which had provoked a street demonstration which resulted in Crichlow and his companions being charged with various offenses. Supported by, among others, the British Black Panthers (an organization that Jean-Luc Godard had filmed in One Plus One), the accused succeeded in indicting the police. Around the figure of Crichlow, which irresistibly evokes that of the honest farmer subjected to the abuses of a corrupt sheriff of classic westerns, McQueen and his co-writer Alastair Siddons paint the group portrait of a militant generation, inspired by the combat for the civil rights of African Americans, but also aware of its own heritage. Shot in Scope, respectful of the rules of the film trial, Mangrove traces very exactly the barriers within which old England wants to confine the newcomers and exalts the militant inventiveness that they put to overthrow them.
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