Mangrove tells this true story of The Mangrove Nine, who clashed with London police in 1970. The trial that followed was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.
The lines between what constitutes TV and what constitutes cinema have become increasingly blurred over recent years in large part down to Netflix, and that has only been exacerbated this year by the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced many cinemas to shut their doors, and for those films that weren’t delayed, has meant finding an audience in people’s homes. Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ series was always intended to air on the BBC regardless of outside influences, but it’s a perfect example in microcosm of how directors are using the medium of TV (or Netflix) to tell stories they may have otherwise not been able to do.
‘Small Axe’ is a five part series focusing on the black experience in Great Britain, telling stories over the past fifty years, with a mix of fact based dramas and fictionalized storytelling. The first, ‘Mangrove’, tells the story of the Mangrove restaurant, a Caribbean restaurant in West London, which was repeatedly targeted by racist police officers and led to an incident where the owner and several friends were arrested. The film covers the background that led to the arrests and the trial itself, and it showcases the systemic racism faced by black Britons in the 70s. The performances are great, notably Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow, who owned the Mangrove, and Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, one of the leading activists, and the trial section is every bit as engrossing as the scenes in ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’, one of the best films of the year.
Besides the political elements that ‘Mangrove’ spends much of its time focusing on, I really liked the sense of community that McQueen establishes around the restaurant, and that becomes important in demonstrating how those arrested stick together when efforts are made to divide the defendants. ‘Mangrove’ is an excellent start to this series and bodes well for the remaining four films.
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Starring: Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White, Darren Braithwaite, Richie Campbell, Duane Facey-Peason, Jumayn Hunter, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Alex Jennings and Samuel West