The Oscar-winning director said of the two films, which address racism in the UK: “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. ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.’ Black lives matter.”
The films come from the director’s British anthology series Small Axe, which was previously described as a TV series, but is now an anthology of five films which will show on the BBC and Amazon Prime.
The two films announced for Cannes, which hasn’t taken place this year due to the coronavirus but has announced its lineup in a bid to boost the distribution credentials of some of the films, are called Mangrove and Lovers Rock.
Each film tells a different story, set within London’s West Indian community from the 1960s to the mid 1980s, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will despite rampant racism and discrimination.
The first film, Mangrove, tells the true story of the Mangrove Nine and Frank Crichlow, starring Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space), and Malachi Kirby (Black Mirror). The second film, Lovers Rock, tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s, starring Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II), Micheal Ward (Top Boy), Shaniqua Okwok (Van der Valk) and Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education).
As previously announced, John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) will also star in one of the anthology’s films, with more details forthcoming. The two films announced for Cannes are due to have a theatrical release in France.
To have two films in the Cannes Official Selection – and likely in competition – is a rare feat for a director. McQueen was one of only two black filmmakers announced among the more than 50 directors selected for the festival today.
Small Axe’s title is derived from an African proverb which has resonance throughout the Caribbean, “If you are a big tree, we are a small axe.” Small Axe is also the title of a Bob Marley song from The Wailers 1973 album Burnin’, which asserts that marginal or small voices of dissent can successfully challenge more powerful voices.
The anthology series is a Turbine Studios and Lammas Park production for BBC One, which developed and commissioned the series, with Amazon Studios co-producing in the U.S. It was created and directed by McQueen, and written by McQueen, Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland. Alex Wheatle is a writing consultant to the anthology. BBC Studios brokered the deal with Amazon for the U.S. and will distribute internationally.
The anthology series is 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 Studios and Anita Overland.
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