As Cineworld makes its final curtain call due to cinemas being closed for much of the year, cinema still lives thanks to the BFI and the London Film Festival. Opening the 64th annual, yet first ever virtual LFF this year was Steve McQueen’s new true race drama, Mangrove. The opening episode of a mini series titled, Small Axe, Mangrove tells the story of the Mangrove nine, a group of black British activists in 1970 who were arrested and tried in court for inciting a riot at a protest they held against racial discrimination in the police force.
Similar to his Oscar winning film, 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen takes a moment in history white society has buried and gives it a brand new life in today’s scarily similar social context. The film perfectly exposes systemic racial prejudice in not just the police force, but the entire justice system, which is all the more relevant and profound because of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year. This being said, there have been many films about racial inequality, but what makes this film such a success, is its subversively optimistic perspective.
(Letitia Wright in Mangrove)
Despite the strong theme of racial prejudice, this isn’t your average depressing movie about injustice; in fact it’s a celebration of black Caribbean culture and resistance. The Mangrove restaurant, to which the film gets its name, was a cultural hub as its owner and member of the Mangrove nine, Frank Crichlow, served traditional spicy Caribbean cuisine, became central to the Notting Hill Carnival, as well as, reluctantly allowing his restaurant to become the symbol of black resistance that it inevitably was to be. In this way, the film is very fitting of the Mangrove nine themselves, black, proud, confident and strong in every aspect.
Speaking of Frank Crichlow, Shaun Parkes shines as Crichlow in a mesmerizing career best performance. Although, Mangrove boasts a strong cast with equally strong performances, Letitia Wright does an outstanding job as Altheia Jones-Lecointe and Malachi Kirby is excellent as Darcus Howe, but it is Parkes as Crichlow that is steals the show.
Overall, Mangrove is a must see movie that is more than a promising start for McQueen’s Small Axe mini-series. With a strong ensemble cast, rich cultural presence and an incredibly important story handled by the assured film-making talent of Steve McQueen, Mangrove is the defining movie of 2020 and a powerful response to anyone you believed Black Lives Matter to be an exclusively American problem.
Mangrove will premiere on BBC One on November 15th with the rest of the Small Axe series premiering one episode per week.