Why 'Small Axe' is the Golden Globe nominee you need to catch up on first

Commentary: Of the Golden Globe nominees, 'Small Axe' is the one to catch up on first. Here's why

2/28/2021 5:33:00 PM

Commentary: Of the Golden Globe nominees, 'Small Axe' is the one to catch up on first. Here's why

Whatever awards it may or may not win, Steve McQueen's indelible anthology series 'Small Axe' is a must-see window into London's vibrant West Indian community.

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward in “Lovers Rock.”(Parisa Taghizedeh / Amazon Prime Video)What sets “Small Axe” apart is its ability to mine humanity and empathy from the smallest details: There’s the graceful swirl of smoke off the hand-rolled cigarette of a troubled soul. Or the bamboo-patterned wallpaper in a Caribbean family’s residence, juxtaposed with the cold British weather outside as if to suggest how far they are from the place they once called home.

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The series captures a slice of life seldom seen onscreen, that of first-generation immigrants from former British colonies such as Trinidad and Guyana, Jamaica and Grenada, which gained their independence during the decades depicted in “Small Axe.” Those eager to start a new life elsewhere are part of the Windrush generation that flocked to Britain after World War II — named after the former German ocean liner the initial wave arrived on — and were later recognized as legal permanent residents under a 1971 immigration act. The thick patois of characters throughout the series may require some American viewers to use closed captioning. But their offspring are a different story: They grew up consuming British culture, even while being pushed to its margins.

AdvertisementThough there’s plenty of strife in “Small Axe,” moments of beauty are pulled from the commonplace and amplified into indelible cinema. The strength and fragility of older folks as they sway to Jim Reeves’ songs at the ’60s-era Mangrove cafe. The hormones, hopes and angst of young revelers at an ’80s house party, their precarious journey into adulthood captured in quick, unsure glances between prospective lovers or a bead of sweat running down a young man’s neck. A bright boy’s fascination with the stars is a celestial escape from a discriminatory school system that’s labeled him and other Black kids of Caribbean descent “educationally subnormal.” headtopics.com

McQueen was born in 1969 to Caribbean parents and much of “Small Axe” feels like a memory in the best sense. The director, whose “12 Years a Slave” won the 2014 Oscar for best picture, pulls from his own childhood, the stories of others, historical events and imagined characters to create the series’ vision of West Indies London. “Mangrove” tracks the true stories of the defendants in a case against the police. “Red, White and Blue” retells a young scientist’s decision to become a cop after his father is brutally beaten by law enforcement. “Alex Wheatle” follows the story of the British novelist who was imprisoned after the Brixton uprising. “Lovers Rock” is a whimsical trip to an ’80s blues party, while “Education” follows a fictional boy’s journey through a segregated school system.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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