Mangrove Powerful Portrayal Of Racial Discrimination

Mangrove (Amazon Prime)

Starring  Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe,Malachi Kirby as Darcus Howe,Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow, Sam Spruell as Police Constable Frank Pulley

Directed  by Steve McQueen

Rating: *** ½

Released  as  part of  the  highly-regarded director  Steve McQueen’s 5-part ‘Small Axe’  anthology  on  the  Black British experience over the decades, Mangrove is   powerful stuff.Relevant and  reformative,it has a  special  significance for me  .The  nine people  who protested so  hard against institutionalized racism in  the UK that they came to be known  for all times as  the Mangrove 9, are originally from Trinidad, a country I grew up in.

The accents,  the  cultural pride, the refusal to  assimilate  into a  wider  national platform  to  inculcate  a sense  of belonging,  are all themes that resonate  with  history and  ring  authentic, at time   uncomfortably so. This is  the story of a eatery in  the heart  of London run by a Trinidadian Frank Crichlow(Shaun Parkes) where Black West  Indian protesters  meet regularly to  plan their  strategy against White  supremacy in Great Britain.

 The restaurant becomes  symbolical of  the   attack on  cultural specificity in  the 1960s when the  Black population in Great  Britain  was  seen as  a  major source of trouble  for the White majority.  Given the  volatile undercurrents  of  seditious activities, the action of  the police seems inevitable.

The self-important slightly  arrogant plot converges  on  a racial riot in Britain on 9 August 1970 where  Blacks  clashed with British  policemen. In  the 55-day  long court trial  that followed nine Black  people were tried  for inciting violence against police men.

 The trial is the throbbing art of the constantly engaging drama . McQueen a director  of tremendous  power  and strength(his 12 Years  A Slave Is  an abiding masterpiece)  enters into the British  legal system with  prudence and passion bringing to the court proceedings  a sense of lingering  injustice, with the  presiding  Judge(Alex Jennings,  good in   thankless role)  trying hard to  sound objective, and failing  miserably.

Much of this seemed  lopsided to me , with the main cop Pulley, played by Sam Spruell, coming across as an uncompromising bully. This is the stuff filmy villains are made  of.While all  the performances by  the  accomplished  black cast is admirable , for me Malachi Kirby as Marcus Howe  stands out. When he stands up in court to  speak in that  hypnotic  oratorical voice  and  challenge the  biased racist British judiciary  he becomes  David to the   Goliath  in a legal system  based on  inequality and  discrimination.

Though the outcome of  the  ongoing conflict is  a foregone conclusion   the  narrative  nonetheless  succeeds in  binding our  interests  to the proceedings  reminding us  that racial and cultural  prejudice  from  50 years  is  still a  living shameful reality.

But be warned. The culture, conflicts, characters, accents ,  wardrobe and hair may all seem distant . Not  the sense of injustice ,though.

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