Following the immense success of Steve McQueen’s SMALL AXE series, the BFI are delighted to present a special big screen weekend dedicated to McQueen’s love letter to Black resilience, joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and food.
Taking place at BFI Southbank from 22 – 24 October, the weekend will present all five films in the anthology on the big screen, as well as welcome special guests including Steve McQueen and producers Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner, for panel discussions and Q&As about the making of the films (further guests will be announced soon). The weekend will also include a LOVERS ROCK AFTER PARTY, in partnership with Spiritland at Royal Festival Hall on 22 October, where top DJs will spin the tunes that influenced a generation.
Directed by Steve McQueen and written in collaboration with Courttia Newland and Alastair Siddons, the films that comprise SMALL AXE, created by McQueen for BBC One, are anchored in the experiences of London’s West Indian community from the 1960s through to the mid-80s, a community whose lives were shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination. The weekend will begin on 22 October with a screening of MANGROVE followed by a Q&A with Steve McQueen; the film, which opened the 64th BFI London Film Festival, tells the true story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), whose West Indian restaurant becomes the focal point in a landmark legal battle against blatant discrimination and harassment by the Metropolitan Police Force. The film serves as a critique of the power structures that oppressed the West Indian community of Notting Hill, leading to protests and the famous Mangrove Nine Trial. It’s a powerful testament to the resilience of all those determined to see justice done.
Also screening on the opening night of the weekend will be LOVERS ROCK, the film that Sight and Sound magazine voted Best Film of 2020, followed by a Q&A with Steve McQueen and further guests to be announced soon. Less of a true story than the other SMALL AXE films, this beautifully realised fable of young love and music at a house party in the 1980s is a collective reimagining of a time and place very precious to West Indian Londoners. Employing an unforgettable soundtrack and a unique visual style, the film serves as an ode to the romantic reggae genre ‘Lovers Rock’, and the youth who found freedom in its sound. Afterwards audiences can head to our LOVERS ROCK AFTER PARTY, presented by BFI’s Sonic Cinema series in Spiritland at Royal Festival Hall.
On 23 October, Steve McQueen will be joined by his producers Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for an insightful look at the making of SMALL AXE. This lively conversation will explore the origins of the series, the creative process and approach to each of the five films, the challenges the team encountered when telling the different stories, and the key elements that shaped the anthology. Also screening on 23 October, RED, WHITE AND BLUE tells the true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), who was eventually to rise through the ranks to become one of London’s most distinguished Superintendents in the Metropolitan Police Force. McQueen’s film focuses on a young Logan, who joins the Met in the naïve belief that he can change attitudes from within, only to be met with vicious racism from his colleagues. As institutional racism at the Met is highlighted again in 2021, the film packs a searingly prescient punch.
Completing the line-up for day two is ALEX WHEATLE, based on the extraordinary life of the titular award-winning novelist, who was a writing consultant on the SMALL AXE films. Growing up in a white institutional care system devoid of love, Wheatle found his own path towards a spiritual and political awakening into Black consciousness through his passion for music and DJing, and a connection to Brixton’s multifaceted Caribbean community. The film shows that, against all odds, he transcended an immensely difficult childhood to forge his own success. The final film in the SMALL AXE anthology, EDUCATION, will screen on 24 October – this coming-of-age story following 12-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy), who’s shocked to discover he will be transferred to a school for the so-called ‘Educationally Sub-Normal’ after being accused of disruptive behaviour. With his distracted parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet, it falls to a group of West Indian women to take matters into their own hands and uncover the appalling unofficial segregation policy at play. The film inspired the subsequent documentary SUBNORMAL, exec produced by McQueen, to highlight the injustice and white bias inherent in the British education system.
For audiences wishing to learn more about one of the Mangrove Nine, in November BFI AFRICAN ODYSSEYS will present a programme exploring the work of activist and broadcaster DARCUS HOWE, whose work as an activist was central to the historic Mangrove Nine trial. As well as an activist, Howe also became a household name with a career in broadcasting that spanned three decades, examples of which will be screened as part of this programme. In October and November BFI Southbank’s regular programme strands, including PROJECTING THE ARCHIVE, SILENT CINEMA and BFI FLARE, will also spotlight and celebrate black history and black talent. The programme will include films by Oscar Micheaux and Marlon T Riggs, and the new powerful documentary ANATOMY OF WINGS (Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander, Nikiea Redmond, 2020) about a group of Black girls who, in 2008, sign up to an after-school programme, Wings, where they are taught filmmaking.