Small Axe Anthology

Series | English | 1 Season (5 episodes). Each episode is between 63 and 129 minutes | Original Release: 2020


The anthology, created, written and directed by Steve McQueen, consists of five individual films about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the ’60s to the ’80s. The title is from a proverb, “If you are a big tree, we are the small axe.” Each episode is an entirely new story with a different cast and each painfully reveals how these immigrants suffered and endured in a basically white supremacist society.

 Episode #1. Mangrove. Frank Crichlow opens a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill that attracts the immigrant community. Violence occurs as the police close it down citing it as a hub for gambling and prostitution. In concludes with the highly-charged Mangrove Nine’s landmark Old Bailey trial. Also emerging were activists Darcus Howe and British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-Le-Cointe.

Episode #2. Lovers Rock. A magical mood piece set in a Notting Hill house party infused with reggae music and dancing. Unwelcome in white nightclubs, the West Indians created parties distinctly their own.
Episode #3. Red, White and Blue. Leroy Logan decides to abandon a career in forensic science and join the police force, hoping to make a difference. His outraged father sees his son encountering a violent world filled with white bigotry.
Episode #4. Alex WheatleAlex has no family and is a repeated victim of institutional abuse. He ends up in prison for participating in a riot. His cell mate, Simeon, teaches Alex about  Black history and to  be proud of his heritage. Alex becomes a successful writer in an age of political consciousness.
Episode #5. EducationKingsley, a precocious 12-year-old boy (probably dyslexic) scores poorly on an IQ test and is sent to a school designated as “subnormal.” With intense effort, and sensing bigotry, his proud, hard-working mother transfers Kingsley to a school run by Black mothers. In this environment, Kingsley thrives.

Mangrove:  Shaun Parkes (Frank Crichlow) / Malachi Kirby (Darcus Howe) / Letitia Wright (Altheia Jones-LeCointe) 

Lovers Rock: Coral Messam (Choreographer) 

Red, White and Blue: John Boyega (Leroy Logan) / Steve Toussaint (Leroy’s father)

Alex Wheatle: Sheyi Cole (Alex Wheatle) / Robbie Gee (Simeon)

Education: Kenyah Sandy (Kingsley) / Sharlene Whyte ( Kingsley’s mother)

Why Stream This Film?
When Caribbean families started to move to Great Britain in the 1960s, they were looking for a better lives. They could not have imagined the bigotry and the hostility they would endure. It’s all searingly depicted in the Small Axe Anthology.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 94–98%
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Winner, Best Cinematography (Shabier Kirchner); Nominated, Best Director (Steve McQueen)
  • Golden Globe Awards: Nominated, Best Anthology Series
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Awards: Nominated, Best Picture, Best Director (Steve McQueen); Best supporting Actress (Letitia Wright); Best Cinematography (Shabier Kirchner)

Now streaming on:

SMALL AXE is a prism, each film its own vibrant hue worth appreciating on its own, yet collectively illuminating  the ways in which British Black West Indians formed neighborhoods  and asserted their humanity in the face of white supremacy.
Joshua Rivera

The Verge

Narratively diverse but thematically intertwined, the anthology shines a sociopolitical spotlight on London’s West Indian community from the mid-’60s to the ’80s. These are McQueen’s people: born in 1960 to Caribbean parents, he has woven his own memories and family stories into a vibrant tapestry of immigrant dignity and determination.
Jeannette Catsoulis

The New York Times

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