Many feature filmmakers have been making the leap to TV lately, but Steven McQueen’s TV debut Small Axe is a little different for a few reasons: it’s on a streaming platform, and it’s not really TV. McQueen’s Small Axe anthology is a collection of five feature films centering on London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, starring high profile stars like Letitia Wright and John Boyega. Several of the films made their debut at the 2020 virtual New York Film Festival, but all five films finally hit Amazon Prime Video this month.
Small Axe Trailer
In my review for Mangrove, the first of McQueen’s feature films in his Small Axe anthology, I wondered whether the proper way to portray Black pain was to counterbalance it with Black joy. The latest trailer for Small Axe seems to answer this, focusing on the joy that can be found within London’s embattled West Indian community in the films of the Small Axe anthology, named after the Jamaican proverb, “If you are a big tree, we are the small axe.” The trailer is chock full of rapturous singing, dancing, and consumption of goat curry, even in the face of abject racism and harassment.
The anthology consists of Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red, White, and Blue, Alex Wheatle, and Education, each of which is directed by McQueen, who co-wrote three of the films with Alastair Siddons and two with Courttia Newland. McQueen’s signature style can be found all over the films, three of which — Mangrove, Lovers Rock and Red, White, and Blue — debuted at NYFF, where they were some of the standouts of the festival. Mangrove in particular was a fantastic showcase for Letitia Wright, while John Boyega gives one of the best performances of his career in Red, White, and Blue. Other cast members of this impressive ensemble include Malachi Kirby, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, and Jack Lowden.
Here is the synopsis for Small Axe:
“If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” – Jamaican proverb. Small Axe is a collection of five films inspired by real-life events about ordinary people showing courage, belief, and resilience to overcome injustice and achieve something transformative in their West Indian community. The television debut by Academy Award winning director Steve McQueen. Premiering on BBC One and coming to Prime Video in the US on 11/20.
Amazon Prime Video is set to premiere all five of the Small Axe films on November 20, 2020. The anthology series debuts on BBC One on the same day.
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