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The Small Axe Films (2020)

Since the mid-2010s, “binge watching” has become a thing of human nature.

TV series and mini-series have been gulped up faster than pizza at a teen sleep over, which has happened even more so in the last year with people spending more time at home due to COVID-19. While most binging seems to be associated with TV series (most notably reruns of “The Office”), some series undoubtedly have taken a more cinematic approach (this was what started with “The Sopranos” and one of the main reasons why it was so revolutionary.) While I have more than enough TV/mini series I have yet to catch up on (since I watch too many movies), I have yet to see the line get more blurred between mini-series and movies as I have after watching the five “episodes” of Small Axe.

Even though Amazon Prime has it labeled as “Season 1”, each of the five are films in their own right, created and directed by uber talented filmmaker Steve Mcqueen (director of films such as 12 Years a Slaves and Widows). Each film takes place in the West Indian community in London, the films span from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

The first film (and only one that goes over two hours) is Mangrove. It tells the true story of the neighborhood’s Caribbean restaurant of the same name. It’s owner Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) and the workers/customers are constantly harassed by the local police (to say the least). A peaceful protest involving Frank, activist Darcus Howe, and British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright, Shuri from the MCU’s Black Panther) turns ugly, and they are arrested. The fight for discrimination is brought to court, in scenes that are just as powerful (if not more so) than those we saw in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

The second film is Lovers Rock, telling a short tale of one evening at a house party in the 1980s of West London. The film has a plethora of characters, most notably Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn). This is the film I will most notably be going back to for a rewatch, as it highlights the culture of the community. There is also no doubt that, while the other films do have some good tunes, Lovers Rock is clearly the best soundtrack I have heard from a 2020 film.

In some of his best work to date, John Boyega (Finn from Star Wars) stars as Leroy Logan in the third film, Red, White, and Blue. It tells the true story of how Logan, having witnessed his father assaulted by the police at a young age, grows up and decides to join the force (pun intended) to make changes to the racist attitudes from the inside out. He soon finds out that it is harder than he had anticipated.

The real life story of writer Alex Wheatle is the focus of the fourth film. Played by Sheyi Cole, the film focuses on young Alex in the Brixton riots of 1981.

The fifth and final film, Education, tells the story of 12 year old Kinglsey (Kenyah Sandy). After being disruptive in class, he is sent to a “special education” school. It is soon found out that the new school has more racism happening under the surface.

Each of the films show how uncanny McQueen is as a story teller, especially when it comes to racism. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen his Oscar winning 12 years a Slave (2013), when you see the character played by Michael Fassbender. Those who are racist in the films (especially Mangrove) are only a few steps away from a form of cartoon villainy, despite the fact that they seem so “human” in their actions. It is both breathtaking and vile at the same time.

Parents, each of the film is given the TV-MA rating. There is swearing in all of them, and some violence as well (though far more thematic then gory). Lovers Rock is the film with more sexual material, though hardly any nudity at all (we do see a man trying to take advantage of a women, but nothing graphic is shown). High school and above.

As an American, I can admit to thinking that racism only exists in my country (though our instances of it are probably more severe than most). We forget there are other countries that have shown their racial prejudice as well (the Nazi party in Germany is among the most well known). While each country has their own dark parts in their history, it is nice to remember that they are not alone in suffering from something like racism.

The best films that deal with racism are the ones that make us look at our selves, making sure we don’t fall into that trap of insensitivity. After watching the films, I wanted the suggest the films to non white friends of mine, but found myself making sure I said it in the right way.

The films are making me much more aware of how I act.



Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Lovers Rock

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Red, White, and Blue

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Alex Wheatle

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

All five films are streaming now on Amazon Prime

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