Steve McQueen’s New Work About the Mangrove Nine
Unlike most video artists, Steve McQueen has taken his work to settings outside the context of art galleries and museums and into movie theatres around the world. Now his latest work will see him working in a new format; television.
That work is a five-part anthology series focused on London’s West Indian community called Small Axe, and even though it won’t release until 25 September, excitement for it has already reached a fever pitch—the Cannes Film Festival picked it as an official selection, and the New York Film Festival revealed last week that three episodes from it would open this year’s festival, marking the first time a TV series has launched the event. On Friday, Amazon Studios, which will be streaming the series in the U.S., revealed a trailer for Mangrove, one of the series’ installments (In the U.K., Small Axe will be broadcast by BBC One).
Mangrove focuses on the Mangrove March, which was led by nine Black British activists who were charged with inciting a riot during a protest against the police targeting of their community in 1970. All of the activists faced a trial, at which they demanded that all of the jurors be Black. Ultimately, the activists—two of whom defended themselves in front of the jury—were acquitted of most charges. Letitia Wright, of Black Panther fame, stars in McQueen’s film as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a leader of the British Black Panther Movement.
“Sunday, 9 August 9, is 50 years since the Mangrove March, which led to nine innocent Black women and men being arrested,” McQueen said in a statement. “It was a march necessitated by relentless police brutality in Notting Hill. To commemorate the bravery of these community activists and the nine who went on to be acquitted of incitement to riot with the judge citing ‘evidence of racial hatred,’ I am sharing the trailer of Mangrove, one of five films to be released under the banner Small Axe.”
McQueen, whose 2013 feature 12 Years a Slave became the first film by a Black director to win the Best Picture at the Academy Awards, has been making important moving-image artworks since the 1990s. These videos often employ long takes and focus on notions of danger and precariousness; they won him the Turner Prize in 1999, and some are now on view at Tate Modern in London, where a mid-career survey reopened on Friday after a closure to ensure proper social distancing.
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