Steve McQueen’s rousing 5-part film series ‘Small Axe’ is set to be released weekly starting November 20th on Amazon. These pugnacious and sensual films highlight the experiences of West Indian people in London in the 70s and 80s. Three of the features premiered at the NY Film Festival to great acclaim, building a wave of anticipation for their wide release.
‘Mangrove’ is more traditional narrative, but packs a more ferocious punch, telling the story of the famous Mangrove 9 who challenged the racist London police in court. Restaurant owner Frank Crichlow (a fantastic Shaun Parkes) is the victim of near-constant raids and violence at the hands of the state. He eventually joins an insurgent local chapter of The Black Panthers lead by Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Black Panthers’ Letitia Wright), setting up an exhilarating, public challenge to racism and its daft foot-soldiers.
It’s a thrilling sequence of events, a screenplay that hits too close to home a full six decades later. We sat with some key players in these films and talked about hope, catharsis and finding joy in the struggle.
The Knockturnal: Well, hello there.
Letitia Wright: What’s up?
The Knockturnal: Not much, just chilling in my kitchen.
Letitia Wright: It’s a cool kitchen.
The Knockturnal: Yeah, thank you so much. First thing’s first, I want to congratulate you and thank you on a wonderful, wonderful movie, and this inspired me as a person, as an artist, as everything, so thank you.
Letitia Wright: You’re welcome.
The Knockturnal: So I know that you emigrated from Guyana to England. How did those experiences come up when you were developing this character?
Letitia Wright: Definitely came up because, you know, you’re coming from a place that is so familiar with, culture, people, food, everything. Every aspect you’re so familiar with and then you’re-you’re migrating to somewhere else, and you’re then in that situation trying to fit in to what is acceptable in that land and then realizing that you don’t have to fit in. You should be boldly and beautifully yourself, so I resonated with that transition of coming from a Caribbean cultured country and being in the UK and then adjusting to the different ways of thinking, and the different things, and the way people would look at you and treat you; definitely could understand that in playing Altheia and representing Altheia.
The Knockturnal: Another powerful point about this movie, and powerful in both a positive and negative way, right, is that it’s still relevant to our experiences day to day. What are sort of your emotions about this coming out right now?
Letitia Wright: Yeah, I mean, definitely getting the attention that it needs due to all that’s happened, bittersweet of course. But yeah, just my feelings towards it is that, you know, hopefully, it allows us to, you know- as it’s grabbing everyone’s attention, it allows us to take in the information and take in what we’re trying to do with the series, what we’re trying to do with this collection of films and learn from it, learn from it and grow as a humanity, hopefully, just grow from this place.
The Knockturnal: I love that, and I definitely feel like I did grow watching the movie, you know what I’m saying?
Letitia Wright: Yeah.
The Knockturnal: Something about good art, you know? And I wanted to sort of end on a note that’s kind of funny for me. It’s like when I’m watching these courtroom scenes of you cross-examining the police, and this is like this big catharsis moment for me. I know that, when you’re actually shooting these things, it’s days long or whatever, but were you able to take at least some joy in sticking it to the man in that moment?
Letitia Wright: Yeah, you take joy in everything, you take joy in every moment in sticking it to the man. Yeah, of course, he’s a liar, do you know what I mean? Yeah, you get joy in that, of course.
The Knockturnal: Okay, perfect. I just needed to know.
Letitia Wright: It was good. I liked watching it because I didn’t know he had tears in his eyes, and he was trembling, his lips were trembling. I’m like, “Damn, I didn’t know- close up, I didn’t see that.” I saw the video, I was like “Oooh, you are a liar.”
The Knockturnal: I love that.
Mangrove is now streaming on Amazon.