Thursday, November 19, 2020

Movie with Abe: Mangrove

Directed by Steve McQueen
Released November 20, 2020 (Amazon Prime)

Living in the United States, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world out there that faces many of the same problems that exist here. Many other countries have narratives built on inequality and societies created from structures that turned people into property. The passing of laws to prohibit discrimination after those systems were officially dismantled only did so much, and there are many disturbing and compelling stories of people and communities that were forced to assert their right to live and exist peacefully and in charge of their own destinies.

In the late 1960s, Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), originally from Trinidad, was the owner of a café in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London. Proudly displaying a sign denoting a “Black-owned business,” Frank found his shop continually subject to police harassment and frequent baseless raids. When Frank and other members of the West Indian and Black communities staged a protest against this police mistreatment, they were arrested and put on trial, where Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) repeatedly refused a number of requests designed to ensure the fair treatment of the defendants.

This film is the first in an anthology series called “Small Axe” directed by Steve McQueen, best known for the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” Based on the true story of the Mangrove Nine, this entry showcases a powerful case of people demanding to be heard and to live without being constantly subjugated to persecution. Its timing coincides closely with the release of the American film “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which presents its own version of distorted justice and a resolute governmental defense of police over the rights of those oppressed and abused by them. There are clear differences and the stakes are very much not the same, but both films make for emphatic and worthwhile viewing.

This film makes strong use of an ensemble cast led by Parkes that includes Letitia Wright, who delivers a formidable turn as a Black Panther activist who knows exactly what the law entitles her to and is not content to relinquish any autonomy, especially not to a white lawyer. Before it even gets to the courtroom, a setting that is truly compelling and presented in an engaging fashion, this film cements itself as an important and involving dramatization by refusing to pull away from its most intense scenes, firmly trapping its audience in the center of violent protests or unexpected raids. This film’s events may be in the past, but its content as portrayed in this format feels enticingly urgent.


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