In 1970 a group of Black activists fought against the treatment of their community by the police and, after taking to the streets, were tried in one of the most influential black power trials in British history. Mangrove is based on these events.
Frank Crichlow was the owner of the Mangrove, a restaurant in Notting Hill which became the heart of the West Indian community. It attracted intellects, activists and even celebrities but because most of the customers were Black the police took a particular dislike to it and raided it 12 times in just over a year. Crichlow filed complaints but nothing was done.
On August 9th, 1970, 150 protesters marched to their local police station and were confronted by 200 police officers who initiated the violence that followed. Nine were arrested with incitement to violence: Crichlow, Altheia Jones-LeCointe – leader of the British Black Panther movement – Darcus Howe, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett.
The film, although incredible in its entirety, really gets going once it hits the courtroom. The pace up until then is mostly fast-paced and energetic but here, as it slows down, we get to the core of what the film is truly about.
We see a jury with only two Black members, policemen lying on the stand and a judge with clear contempt for the defendants (and no attempt to hide it). The nine push to focus on the injustices and obvious racism at play and are met with resistance and attempts to silence them.
It is not just a film, it is a memorialisation of vital British history that has for so long been overlooked by the whitewashed system that teaches us. It highlights the strength that the nine endured and how important it is to speak up.
Letitia Wright is standout in her performance as Altheia. Power and passion lie behind every word she says and every movement she makes. Her presence is commanding, and it is impossible to take your eyes off of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were awards in her future.
The supporting cast is similarly fantastic. Malachi Kirby, who plays Darcus, and Shaun Parkes, Frank, give us eloquent and formidable performances that are ultimately faultless. The casting, in general, is so spot-on, one look at the real Mangrove nine and it is clear how much effort has been put into creating characters that are as accurate as possible.
With the impeccable costumes, rich colours and gorgeous 35mm cinematography there is no doubt that Steve McQueen is an artist. His films continue to show us that his talent is seemingly never-ending and despite how popular his films get he remains uncompromising in his subject matter.
Mangrove is part of the Small Axe anthology series which is made up of five films all directed by Steve McQueen. Each film tells a different story about the West Indian community in London and how they have persevered through racism and discrimination. All of them are set between the 1960s and 1980s but the stories are still as important and relevant today as they were back then.
They have been described by McQueen himself as “a celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and even food”. After seeing Mangrove there is no denying that this is the case.
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