Director Steve McQueen On How Anti-Black Racism Fueled “Small Axe”
Exclusive: The award-winning filmmaker’s father narrowly avoided a lynching in the United States and other untold Black Briton stories
Progress is a slow turning wheel and Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen celebrates the victories and the pain it took to get to where we are in a five-part film anthology called Small Axe, airing now on Amazon Prime. Borrowing a name from a Bob Marley song that speaks of a big tree cut down by the constant chipping of a small axe, the film posits that Britain’s West Indian (Caribbean) community is the axe. White Britain is the tree.
McQueen’s series masterfully documents systemic oppression and the London community’s stunning resistance during the 1960s and 1980s. McQueen, who has Grenadian roots, takes the audience on a journey through the complex social and political landscape of his hometown but also shares with us the rituals of language, food, music, and dance that made his community’s survival both glorious, and possible. The films release weekly. McQueen talked to Momentum about his ideas behind the anthology and the importance of visiting Black British history and systemic oppression on both sides of the pond.
Momentum: You are clearly inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States. Where do you see yourself in that struggle?
McQueen: We don’t have to climb Mount Everest. It’s just about being healthy; mentally and spiritually. That’s a victory as far as I’m concerned. Black people, we deal with so many extremes. When we watch TV and see a Black man beaten up or a Black woman dragged across the floor, it affects us even though we try and block it out; it affects our mental health.
How do you recover from this trauma?
Prayer. Meditation. Go for a walk. Have that five minutes to yourself because we carry a lot of weight. I’ve done meditation. I’ve had a therapist, but you have to find the right one.