How society has and continues to view Black people and its culture has been of particular interest and concern in this last year. Between rioting under Trump following brutality and murder by the Police to massive inequalities in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen inequality and hatred made clear and accepted through mainstream politics. Watching this brings it home how hard it could be presuming guilt based on just your skin colour by people who should be protecting you.
Steve McQueen has created a series of shorts for the BBC, “Small Axe”, that puts the historical inequalities of the Black community under the spotlight. Thought provoking and disappointing. It’s difficult to accept we’re members of the same society that created (and continues to do so) this inequality.
Mangrove (Episode 1) covers the case of the Mangrove Nine, accused in 1970 for “riot and affray”. The Mangrove is a new West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill struggling alongside an institutionally racist Police force. The restaurateur Frank is faced with Police brutality and victimisation and wants to avoid any trouble by The Black Panthers’ help. Ultimately ending at The Old Bailey.
“The thing about the black man is they’ve got to know their place and if they step out of it, they need to be nudged back in.”PC Frank Pulley, Small Axe, Episode 1
Lovers Rock (Episode 2) is set in a house party with some funk, soul and early disco where we see rejection, dancers pairing off and sweating walls. At one point the music is cut and we hear the dancers singing, lost, underlining the meaning of the song (Silly Games by Janet Kay). Some epic music and dancing, you can appreciate the true origins of disco and house music and dance and the euphoria music can bring. It’s an epic DJ set with bits of story attached.
Red White and Blue (Episode 3) stars John Boyega of Star Wars fame, in an attempt to prove that Star Wars is no longer just white men in spaceships. Leroy leaves science and research and joins the Police to try and effect change from within, removing the racism that saw his dad beaten up by coppers. Family conflicts and paternal disappointment
I don’t suppose you get many people from my background – science – thought I’d be the first.Leroy Logan, Small Axe, Episode 3
Alex Wheatle (Episode 4) is the true story of the successful author who grew threw a challenging childhood and youth amidst racism and rioting. Alex imbibes from multiple cultures (drugs, music) and attempts to integrate with his Surrey-Englishness whilst he understands where he’s from and where he’s finding himself to be. Eventually, putting himself to achieving significant literary success.
“If you don’t know your past, then you won’t know your future”Rastafari, Small Axe, Episode 4
Education (Episode 5) reveals the inequalities in education and how Black people were segregated into “special schools” in the guise of their providing appropriate education and improving the opportunities for their white contemporaries. Kingsley wants to be an astronaut but is struggling in his education. His family are proud and difficult to help and expose the schools for what they really are, for the “educationally sub-normal”.
“You can’t have a black man in space, who told you that?”School pupil, Small Axe, Episode 5