McQueen’s films “Mangrove” and “Lovers Rock” — both part of the director’s BBC-commissioned “Small Axe” anthology, consisting of five feature-length stories — have been selected for Cannes, which revealed its line-up today despite not going ahead with a physical festival this year.
“I dedicate these films to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere,” said McQueen. “‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.’ Black Lives Matter.”
McQueen’s comments come the same day as a massive protest was staged in London’s Hyde Park for the Black Lives Matter movement. “Star Wars” actor John Boyega, who will also appear in one of the “Small Axe” films, played a prominent role at the protest, marching alongside demonstrators and speaking to the gathered crowds.
“Small Axe” tell the stories of London’s West Indian community from the last-1960s to the mid-1980s. The title references the African proverb, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe,” and was made popular by the eponymous Bob Marley and the Wailers song.
While the titles were originally commissioned as part of a five-hour series, the hour-long episodes have been expanded into feature-length films in collaboration with BBC Films, which has made them eligible for Cannes. Each “Small Axe” film will premiere on BBC One and catch-up service iPlayer in the U.K. later this year.
Charlotte Moore, director of content for BBC, added: “It’s testament to Steve McQueen’s peerless talent as a director that these two outstanding films from the BBC’s upcoming drama anthology ‘Small Axe’ have been recognized by the Cannes Film Festival in this way. ‘Small Axe’ is an extraordinary and visceral piece of work and we are so privileged to have Steve on the BBC and help him bring these stories to as big an audience as possible.”
“Mangrove” tells the true story of the Mangrove 9 activists and the trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1970. Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”), Shaun Parkes (“Lost in Space”) and Malachi Kirby (“Curfew”) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (“Line of Duty”) and Jack Lowden (“The Long Song”). The film was co-written by McQueen and Alastair Siddons.
Meanwhile, “Lovers Rock” tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s. Amarah-Jae St Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite BAFTA’s 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (“Blue Story”). The film was co-written by McQueen and Courttia Newland.
“Small Axe” has been executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen for Lammas Park. Mike Elliot is producing for EMU Films with Turbine and Anita Overland. Executive producers for the BBC are Lucy Richer, senior commissioning editor for drama, and Rose Garnett, director of BBC Films.
Amazon Studios is co-producing within the U.S., while BBC Studios is handling global television sales with Turbine Studios managing theatric distribution.
The remaining three films in “Small Axe” include “Alex Wheatle,” “Education” and “Red, White and Blue.”