A major theme of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series is West Indian joy. West Indian immigrants’ struggles against state resistance to everyday black life. In a rather profound contrast to McQueen’s other work—in which long takes of suffering bodies draw the viewer into the inescapability of the pain experienced by his subjects—joy disrupted provides the counterpoint to bodies in pain. Striking this balance between suffering and joyous bodies is one of the reasons that McQueen’s series may be his best effort yet to move between art cinema and popular genres.
James S. Williams From Film Quarterly, Summer 2021, Volume 74, Number 4 Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Ugly, hurtful, joyous, painful. —Steve McQueen This is how Steve McQueen presents his project in “Small Axe” (2020) to honor recent Black British history—a story of systemic injustice and discrimination, protest and resistance, that has never before been properly narrated in British cinema. 1 Yet despite its compelling period re-creation of London from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and its eminently accessible, linear and realist style (aided by low-lit, muted browns, greens, and blues shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner), the experience of watching this sweeping pentalogy—Mangrove; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; Lovers Rock; Education—often seems, paradoxically, to work against the historical record, even to the point of swerving away from Black history at the very moment of retrieving it. 2 One sees this most graphically in Mangrove, the only film to provide a date and location (“Notting Hill, London, 1968”) as a formal element. The film is just settling …
Steve McQueen’s anthology film series “Small Axe” (2020) enacts a visual historiography of West Indian life in London from the Windrush generation of the 1960s through the early 1980s. 1 Across Mangrove; Lover’s Rock; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; and Education, the series devises this history with distinct formats (film and digital, 16 mm and 35 mm), postproduction processes, and aspect ratios.
Michael Boyce Gillespie leads a roundtable with scholars Jonathan W. Gray, Rebecca A. Wanzo, and Kristen Warner to discuss issues of medium, genre, fandom, and African American history in the highly regarded HBO series Watchmen. Characterizing the HBO series as a disobedient adaptation that modifies, extends, and redirects the world making of its source material, the famed twelve-issue comic-book series of the same name, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Gillespie et al. explore the ways in which Watchmen remediates American history, starting with the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 that serves as the historical and ideological trigger that sets the series in motion. In a wide-ranging conversation that encompasses subjects including fan fiction, adaptation, cultural mythology, and black superheroes, the authors argue for Watchmen’s significance as some of the most consequential television of the century so far.
Christina Sharpe’s conception of “wake work” concentrates on how visual and expressive culture renders and contemplates death and the afterlife of slavery in black life. For Sharpe this entails a focus on how “literature, performance, and the visual culture observe and mediate this un/survival.” Her assessment of existence “in the wake” as a critical positioning attends to the structural and affective with reference to a range of connotations including “the keeping watch with the dead, the path of a ship, a consequence of something, in the line of flight and/or sight, awakening, and consciousness.”
“Dimensions in Black: Perspectives on Black Film and Media.” The live launch of FQ 71.2 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on December 5, 2017. This event featured the dossier authors and editor in conversation with each other and the audience.