Kung Fu: On Racial Killings
Steve McQueen’s Almanac Film Segments Shown at New York Film Festival
British director Steve McQueen considers the film-almanac Small Ax to be the most personal of his career.
This unusual project is a miniseries made up of five stand-alone segments. Three of them won the online world premiere at the 58th New York Film Festival (NYFF) ending Sunday, October 11. One of the episodes, “Lovers Rock”, was shown at the opening of the traditionally organized by Lincoln Center, which for the first time in its history is held in a virtual format.
Virtual press conference
Earlier it was reported that two of the five segments of “Hatchet” were selected for screening in May at the Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The NYFF program, in addition to “Lovers Rock”, includes two more segments of the series – “Mangrove” (Mangrove) and “Red, white and blue” (Red, White and Blue). The series also includes the Education and Alex Wheatle segments..
On October 7, Mangroves opened the 64th London Film Festival, organized by the British Film Institute (BFI). Lovers Rock will also be shown there on October 18.
; Lovers Rock
During NYFF, it was announced that McQueen’s British-American miniseries would premiere in the US on November 20 on Amazon Prime Video and simultaneously in the UK on BBC One. On November 20, viewers will see “Mangroves”, November 27 – “Lovers Rock”, December 4 – “Education”, December 11 – “Alex Whittle” and December 18 – “Red, White and Blue”.
The title of the miniseries Small Ax is derived from a West African proverb that is known to many from the line from the 1973 Bob Marley song “If you are a big, big tree, then we are a little hatchet, ready to cut it down.”.
At two press conferences held on the Zoom platform, Steve McQueen noted that this is a very personal film for him, which he has been approaching for many years. The Briton is known for the films Hunger, Shame, Widows, and, of course, 12 Years of Slavery, for which he received three Oscars, including Best Film of the Year.
Five stories he tells draws the viewer into the world of London’s colored immigrants from the late 60s to the early 80s of the last century..
Drive for Cinderella
“These are the stories that shaped me as an artist, as a black British,” said the 50-year-old director. “To look ahead, you need to look back and assess how far we have come.”.
Steve McQueen was born and raised in West London, Shepherd Bush and Ealing, to immigrants from Trinidad and Grenada. His father was friends with radical activists, defenders of immigrants, and his own aunt, a frequenter of music and dance parties, became the prototype of one of the heroines of “Lovers Rock”.
Renowned film critic Todd McCarthy on the Deadline portal notes that all three segments shown at NYFF are exciting in their own way and “open a window into the lifestyle of their characters, which is almost completely ignored by the mass media.” At the same time, Todd McCarthy draws attention to certain thematic “constraints”. Each segment focuses on one thing. “Lovers Rock” is almost entirely devoted to a night of dancing at the club and the beginning of a love affair of one of the couples..
“Lovers Rock” can be described as a somewhat sprawling reportage from a private blues party at a colored club in the 1980s, where young people rock out and romance and fights break out to the rhythm of reggae. Plunging into the world of incendiary music, surrendering to its drive is a way for young heroes to forget, at least for a while, about the racism and social injustice reigning outside the club’s walls.
The director considers the stories he tells to be universal. So, “Lovers Rock” is, in his opinion, the story of a modern Cinderella, reinterpreted into an experimental musical.
“All the hardships of the world”
The Mangroves and Red, White and Blue segments focus on racial bias and police violence in London.
Mangroves focus on a true story of brutal police brutality against the popular Caribbean restaurant Mangrove in London’s trendy Notting Hill.
The restaurant is run by Frank Crichlow (actor Sean Parks). The establishment is becoming a favorite meeting place for immigrants from the islands of the West Indies, but the police intimidate and beat visitors without any reason.
Crichlow, as shown in the film, was an emotional person with an explosive temperament. After nine (!) Police raids in August 1970, the cup of patience
Crichlow and his friends were overcrowded, and about 150 residents of the area grappled in hand-to-hand combat with three hundred Bobbies. Several police officers were injured in the violent scuffle. Crichlow and eight of his friends were put on trial.
Soon the high-profile case received the unofficial name “Mangra-9” according to the number of the accused. They are defended in court by Ian McDonald (actor Jack Lowden), a young, gifted white lawyer who skillfully avoids legal pitfalls. Letisha Wright plays British Black Panther leader Althea Jones-LeCoint, who also defends the interests of the colored community in a notorious trial.
Sean Parks, who plays Crichlow, McQueen compares to young Al Pacino.
“Sean embodies all the hardships of the world, and you can see it on his face,” says McQueen. – He’s like a silent movie star. His face conveys the depth of feelings with minimal emotionality “.
In reality, the process lasted 11 weeks, and, as one of the reviewers notes, McQueen and his co-writer Alastair Siddons took a lot of effort to squeeze the vicissitudes of the process into a television series format..
“This is the story of why we’re here,” McQueen said. – The story is not only about the past, but also about the present day. People are sacrificing themselves, people are desperate, which is why these films are so important. They help redefine the landscape of the United Kingdom. They lay the foundation for London’s multicultural society. “.
The script for the fifth episode “Red, White and Blue” McQueen wrote with Curtia Newland and Alastair Siddons.
; Red, white and blue
In the center of the series – a young black Londoner Leroy Logan (actor John Boyega, familiar to the audience from Star Wars: The Force Awakens). His father is brutally beaten by the police, who find fault with him on a far-fetched pretext. Leroy, a promising research scientist, against his father’s wishes, decides to join the police to prove by personal example the need to establish mutual understanding between the authorities and the community of colored immigrants.
The action takes place in the early 80s, when black “bobbies” were a rarity in the police in the British capital. Leroy is hired, but “pressed” from all sides. Colleagues in the service do not hide their hostile attitude towards the dark-skinned newcomer and arrange various dirty tricks for him, small and large. On the other hand, Leroy’s father and other representatives of the community of immigrants from the islands of the West Indies express dissatisfaction with his transition to the “camp of the enemy.” One of the local teenagers tosses him “Judas!” To which Leroy coldly replies: “For you, I am Constable Judas!”.
The impeccable behavior of the hero, a knight without fear and reproach, his restraint, intelligence, erudition, allowing to resolve difficult situations and not succumb to the provocations of racists, recalls the image of the investigator Tibbs, the hero of Sydney Poitier from the classic film by Norman Jewison, “Stuffy Night Heat of the Night).
Casting and emptiness
The segments “Alex Wheatl” and “Education”, which have not yet been exposed at the festival screenings, are also focused on the topic of discrimination against national minorities..
The first is about the 1981 Brixton Uprising, when protests by South Londoners led to violent riots and clashes with police..
The second tells the story of a 12-year-old immigrant boy who was unfairly classified as a child with “special needs” and activists from the Caribbean community who created an educational program for difficult children and adolescents..
According to McQueen, he seeks to at least partially restore the racial balance in British cinema..
McQueen dedicated “Lovers Rock” and “Mangroves” to the memory of George Floyd, an African American victim of police violence this year. The director does not hide his criticism of racial injustice in the film industry. Last summer, he wrote a columnist for the Guardian attacking “blatant racism” in the British film industry. In his assessment, Britain lags far behind the United States in establishing racial justice in the selection of actors for roles. Casting for Hatchet proved to be very easy, McQueen writes, as a lot of talented black actors don’t get movie roles at all..
“At least two generations of (color) filmmakers from virtually every profession have failed in this country (UK) because they weren’t given the slightest chance,” he says. – We have Marlons Brando driving buses. We have Montgomery Clifts working on construction sites, and Audrey Hepburn in high technology. That’s why I made five films at once to fill the actor’s void from the late 60s to the mid-80s. “.
Experts note that due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a clear shortage of large-scale art-house projects in the global film industry. This is especially noticeable when looking at the programs of the world’s largest film forums such as Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Against the dim background of mid-range films and commercial mainstream, Steve McQueen’s unexpected and passionate project is perceived as a polemical revelation, especially relevant in the “covid era.”.
According to many observers, it was McQueen’s project, as well as films “Nomadland” directed by Chloe Zhao and “One Night in Miami” directed by Regina King, turned out to be the loudest and most talked about films of the NYFF. These three favorites are predicted to receive Oscar nominations in critical categories, including Best Picture..
Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Voice of America Service in New York.