Once again, we’re back to discussing everyone’s least favorite TV topic: racial justice. This time, Amazon Prime offers its take on the subject through Steve McQueen's (12 Years a Slave) anthology series Small Axe. Although the first episode in the anthology, Mangrove, is based on a real event in 1970 in London, it didn’t take long for people to pretend it relates to police conduct today.
The movie, which premiered November 20, tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of black activists who faced off against the police in Notting Hill, London. After a series of targeted raids at the Mangrove Restaurant, the black owner and patrons took part in a protest that soon devolved into a riot. This led to a lengthy court battle where, after a series of unorthodox legal tactics, the Mangrove Nine managed to have their charges dropped and expose racial motivations within the police.
While the behavior in the piece can be a little exaggerated (one white policeman literally says, “The thing about the Black man is…he’s got his place. He’s just gotta know his place.”), there’s no denying that this event did happen in a time when racial tension was still high. However, although these events took place about five decades ago, people seem eager to act like America 2020 is exactly like Notting Hill 1970.
The Wrap wrote about the film, “Steve McQueen exposes the police brutality of the past, and the present,” remarking that it “reminds us that the past is never dead, and it’s certainly not even past.” RogerEbert.com noted that the fact that “it feels so much a product of present-day events is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the world today.”
GQ Magazine UK went one step further and simply praised the film as it “illustrates the evolution of the institutional racism black British people still face today.” Apparently, society has literally not improved in the last fifty years, and this despite the fact that the Mangrove Nine were cleared of their initial riot charges. Seems like society can be more fair than GQ thinks.
Reviewers weren’t the only ones making this connection, unfortunately. In a preview of the films back in June, series creator and director McQueen chose to dedicate Mangrove as well as the other Small Axe projects to the memory of George Floyd:
“I dedicate these films to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the US, UK and elsewhere. If you are the big tree, we are the small axe. Black Lives Matter.”
If the series creator himself believes 1970 London is comparable to America today, it’s no stretch to see reviews make the same connection.
There are still four more films left in the Small Axe series which probably means four more weeks of people making “timely” connections, as if the current BLM movement hasn’t dragged on long enough for viewers.