While it was announced last year that Steve McQueen was embarking on his next project, Small Axe, an anthology series for the BBC, consider us among those surprised when it was revealed yesterday that two brand-new films from the director were selected to premiere as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2020 lineup. Now, more details regarding the project have surfaced.
Set in London’s West Indian community during the late 1960s and early 1980s, the series was originally conceived as featuring six parts that were each 60 minutes. The final results are now five features of varying lengths, each directed and co-written by the 12 Years a Slave helmer.
Of the two selected to premiere at Cannes, one was Mangrove, which clocks in at 2 hours and 4 minutes, and follows “the true story of Mangrove 9 activists and the trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1970,” reports Variety. The film stars Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, and Jack Lowden.
The second was Lovers Rock, pictured above, which runs 1 hour and 8 minutes and “tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s,” led by Amarah-Jae St Aubyn in her debut role and Micheal Ward. The films would have made Cannes history as they were both tipped to premiere in competition, marking the first time a filmmaker would’ve had more than one film competition for the Palme d’Or in the same year, Screen Daily reports.
The films from this series, which takes it name from a quote from Bob Marley’s 1973 album Burnin’, have also been dedicated to George Floyd. McQueen says, “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 U.S., U.K. and elsewhere.” Mentioning the Marley quote, he adds, “‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.’ Black Lives Matter.”
With John Boyega also part of one of the other films, the remaining three are titled Alex Wheatle, Education, and Red, White and Blue. While we hope to get more details soon on the rest of the series, we know they will air on BBC later this year (with the two Cannes-selected films getting a theatrical release in France) and will be coming to Amazon Prime in the United States.
“I felt these stories needed to be shared,” McQueen said. “I wanted to re-live, re-evaluate and investigate the journeys that my parents and the first generation of West Indians went on to deliver me here today calling myself a black British person. What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global. I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves.”
Check more images below.
Small Axe will air on BBC and been picked up by Amazon for U.S. distribution.