Small Axe—the new anthology film series from award-winning director Steve McQueen (Widows, 12 Years A Slave)—takes its name from an African proverb popularized by a 1973 Bob Marley song of the same name: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe / Ready to cut you down.” The series’ first feature, Mangrove, underscores that theme in its chronicle of the Mangrove Nine, a group of men and women arrested and put on trial because of a peaceful protest in support of a community restaurant (the titular Mangrove) that’d been the subject of countless racially motivated police raids. Among the Nine was the leader of the British Black Panther movement, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, played by Black Panther’s Letitia Wright. The story of Jones-LeCointe and the Mangrove Nine is a testament to the strength and resilience of community, specifically the British West Indian community, with clear parallels to the modern Black Lives Matter movement in America. Ahead of its premiere, The A.V. Club had the opportunity to speak with Wright about Mangrove’s urgent relevance, her conversations with Altheia Jones-LeCointe in preparation for the role, and why McQueen’s long been on her list of filmmakers she’s wanted to work with.
Mangrove—the first of Steve McQueen’s five Small Axe films—premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 20.