May. 7, 2021
PROXY [virtual] SPRING SERIES, VOLUME TWO
Welcome back to the PROXY [virtual] Spring Series. This week, our two films focus on institutional attempts to intimidate and squash Black political advancement in the United Kingdom and the United States in the sixties and seventies. Our suggested articles dive deeper into the true histories behind the films, and the philosophical and political terrain bearing out these demands for justice.
SMALL AXE: MANGROVE
Directed by Steve McQueen, 2020
Steve McQueen released five feature films — or a season of television — last year in collaboration with BBC One and Amazon Studios. The anthology, titled SMALL AXE, explores the lives and struggles of West Indian immigrant communities in London in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The first entry, MANGROVE, tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of Black community leaders persecuted by police, and their trial that marked the first judicial acknowledgement of racially motivated behavior within the ranks of London’s police force. The film is powered by Shaun Parkes performance as Frank Chrichlow, the reluctant community leader at the center of the trial.
Watch on AMAZON PRIME
Directed by Sam Pollard, 2020
Sam Pollard’s documentary focuses on the obsessive federal surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the direction of then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in a story more well known to American audiences. MLK/FBI drives home the far reaching power granted to the FBI by Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy with the express purpose of intimidating King and his family members. Beautifully edited and composed, MLK/FBI offers a stylistic and infuriating glimpse into recent history.
Watch on VUDU
Inspired by director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe film series, the playlist is an aural exploration of the diasporic threads of West Indian emigres to the UK — their music of celebration, love, resistance and struggle spooling into dub, dubstep, ska, punk, new wave, drum’n’bass, electronic, trance and underground hip hop. -dB
Listen on SPOTIFY
Listen on APPLE MUSIC
ECHOES OF THE MANGROVE NINE
Last year BBC journalist Ashley John Baptiste and photographer Emma Lynch composed this photojournalism portrait of the Mangrove Nine. The article explores their lives and roles in the community before, during, and after the trial that would raise their profiles and firmly situate them in the history of anti-racist activism in the United Kingdom. Photos of the Notting Hill neighborhood and the Mangrove restaurant accompany first person accounts of the protest that turned confrontational with police. The history preserved here shows the Mangrove’s role in building and strengthening a sense of community in a foreign, hostile land.
STEVE MCQUEEN ON SMALL AXE
In an article for the New York Times, director Steve McQueen speaks about the SMALL AXE series and the significance of being able to tell stories of the West Indian community on a service such as BBC. The article explores some of the other excellent films within the series, including the heartwarming dance-party movie LOVER’S ROCK and the tense, biographical RED, WHITE, AND BLUE. Interviews with Letitia Wright and John Boyega round out the piece, entwining the past and future of the Caribbean diaspora through its present state.
“These are new men, new types of human beings. It is in them that are to be found all the traditional virtues of the english nation, not in decay as they are in official society, but in full flower, because these men have perspective. Note particularly that they glory in the struggle. They are not demoralized or defeated or despairing persons. They are leaders, but are rooted deep amongst those they lead”
The above quote is delivered as a voiceover in the opening moments of MANGROVE. It acts as a guiding force for the entirety of the SMALL AXE series, but more concretely as a character analysis of the first entries’ protagonist, Frank Chrichlow. The quote comes from C.L.R James’ Facing Reality, a 1958 marxist handbook for social revolution written in collaboration with American feminist Grace Lee Boggs.
C.L.R. James was a Trinidadian author, activist, and historian whose works are central to the political thought of West Indian communities in London throughout the 20th century. He is peripheral in this story of the Mangrove Nine, being portrayed by Derek Griffiths in the film, but his works are central to the fight for fair and equal treatment that the Mangrove Nine are embedded within. In the movie, we see Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe studying James’ The Black Jacobins, to better understand the lineage of strife and revolt that tied the circumstances in Notting Hill through the Haitian Revolution back to the French Revolution itself.
Much of C.L.R. James’ essays and pamphlets are available online in various forms, and his novels are popular enough to be regularly re-published and available for purchase. His 1954 essay Every Cook Can Govern examines the practice of direct democracy in Ancient Greece, and the importance in elevating the voice of the common man in the democratic process to sustain a just society. It is an apt companion to the story of Frank Chrichlow, a restauranteur turned community leader and British legend.
BLACK ORGANIZING PROJECT
Black Organizing Project is an Oakland based, Black member led community organization working towards social, economic, and racial justice in the Bay Area. Their work is focused on grassroots organizing and includes efforts to reduce police presence in Oakland schools. You can check out their work and consider donating to their efforts here.
HELP BUILD SAFE PASSAGE PARK
Safe Passage Park — SPark — is a neighborhood-led campaign to create urgently needed outdoor space accessible to children, families and the wider community living in the Tenderloin. Residents, businesses, and neighborhood organizations — with the support of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, ENVELOPE and Studio O, the office of District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, and multiple city agencies — have joined together to transform the 200 block of Turk Street into a safe, active community space for all. Volunteers are helping to build SPark, but funds are needed for materials and ongoing stewardship. Please consider supporting the realization of SPark by making a financial contribution today.