The three-part series will explore three seminal events of 1981 that changed race relations in the U.K. and defined them for a generation. In January 1981, a fire at a party in the London suburb of New Cross killed 13 Black teenagers. In March, more than 20,000 people joined Black People’s Day of Action, the first organized protest by Black Britons. And April was when the Brixton riots took place.
Some of these events formed the backdrop for the “Alex Wheatle” episode of “Small Axe.”
James Rogan, who directed the BBC documentary mini-series “Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation,” about an epochal racially-charged U.K. killing, will co-direct “Uprising” with McQueen. Rogan and McQueen previously co-executive produced BBC’s Black-themed documentaries “Black Power” and “Subnormal.”
The BBC One series was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, chief content officer, and Clare Sillery, head of commissioning, documentaries, history and religion. It is produced by Rogan Productions, Lammas Park and Turbine Studios. Executive producers are McQueen, Nancy Bornat, Rogan, Soleta Rogan, Tracey Scoffield, Anna Smith Tenser and David Tanner. The series producer is Helen Bart. Commissioning editors are Sillery and Carl Callam.
“It is an honor to make these films with testimonials from the survivors, investigators, activists and representatives of the machinery of state,” McQueen said. “We can only learn if we look at things through the eyes of everyone concerned; the New Cross Fire passed into history as a tragic footnote, but that event and its aftermath can now be seen as momentous events in our nation’s history.”
“The New Cross Fire that claimed the lives of so many young people and affected many more remains one of the biggest losses of life in a house fire in modern British history,” Rogan said. “What happened and how Britain responded to it is a story that has been waiting to be told in depth for 40 years. In the series, survivors and the key participants will give their account of the fire, the aftermath, the impact it had on the historic events of 1981 and the profound legacy it has left behind.”
“It has been an honor to work with Steve McQueen to bring these powerful stories to BBC One,” Moore added. “With his visionary genius as a filmmaker he has created an incredibly important and evocative series that charts events that have defined race relations in Britain today, giving a voice to the people at the heart of these stories.”
“Small Axe,” a BBC and Amazon co-production, leads the nominations at the upcoming BAFTA Television and Craft awards with 15 nods.