'Small Axe: Mangrove': Who were the Mangrove Nine? Letitia Wright film features fight against discrimination
Just as the Black population in America, people of African and West Indian descent were subjected to racism in the United Kingdom. A new anthology from '12 Years a Slave' director Steve McQueen centers around London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s and is inspired by real-life people. 'Small Axe' will be released on Prime Video weekly. The first short film from the anthology to be released is called 'Mangrove' and stars Letitia Wright ('Black Panther'). 'Mangrove' tells this true story of The Mangrove Nine who clashed with London police in 1970. The trial that followed was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.
In the late 20th century, the West Indian community formed a major part of London. As such, The Mangrove was a popular Caribbean restaurant, in Notting Hill, West London that was opened in 1968 by Trinidadian community activist and civil rights campaigner Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes in 'Small Axe: Mangrove'). At the time, the area was relatively cheap, which made it popular among the Windrush communities setting up their lives in the city. The Mangrove served as a sanctuary to them. The Windrush community refers to the nearly half a million people who were moved from the Caribbean to Britain aboard the Empire Windrush ship between 1948 and 1970 after a severe labor shortage in the aftermath of World War II.
The restaurant was often frequented by intellectuals, activists, and artists, including Nina Simone, Vanessa Redgrave, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Marley. The establishment also provided a safe space for the Black community to support each other, often showing up to give each other advice on finding jobs or housing in Britain. However, due to its popularity with the Black community, the Mangrove became a target of the local council, which took away its late-night license under false claims of criminal activity and therefore affecting the restaurant's business. Soon, police began raiding the building repeatedly under the pretense of looking for drugs -- despite there being no evidence to give weight to their suspicions.
Due to the repeated racial attacks on the restaurant, a peaceful protest was arranged for August 9, 1970, when supporters of the restaurant marched to the local police station in opposition to the discrimination they had been facing. Despite there being no criminal intent, hundreds of police officers were dispatched to the protest and an altercation eventually began, but it remains unclear to this day what exactly initiated it. Numerous people were injured on both sides amid the ensuing chaos, with nine protesters arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray, collectively known as the Mangrove Nine.
The nine protesters arrested are the focus of Steve McQueen's 'Small Axe: Mangrove'. with special attention given to Crichlow, activist Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall), British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and intellectual Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), with the latter two choosing to represent themselves in court. The other members of the Mangrove Nine were Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish, and Godfrey Millett.
With assistance from anti-discrimination and anti-racism lawyer Ian MacDonald, the Mangrove Nine were able to prove their innocence and were all acquitted of the main charge: incitement to riot. Four members of the group were given suspended sentences for lesser offenses, but the case remained a huge victory in the fight against racial discrimination. In his closing comments, Judge Edward Clarke said, “What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides,” bringing attention to the key issue of racial prejudice in the Metropolitan Police at that time.
'Small Axe: Mangrove' premieres on Prime Video on Friday, November 20.