Mangrove (2020)

"We mustn't be victims, but protagonists of our stories. And what better way of representing ourselves than self-representing ourselves.""We mustn't be victims, but protagonists of our stories. And what better way of representing ourselves than self-representing ourselves."

“We mustn’t be victims, but protagonists of our stories. And what better way of representing ourselves than self-representing ourselves.”

Racism, social injustice and discrimination are unfortunate universal languages. It doesn’t skip generations, creeds, sexual orientations or ethnicities. It doesn’t belong to only one country though most notably in American cinema, racism, bigotry and social injustice is featured more prominently than the rest of the world. With each story fiction or non about a person or group surviving harsh times the perspective changes, or at least that is the hope of the filmmakers and survivors of such injustice. The need to be heard or seen matters – it mattered centuries ago as it matters today. Civil rights aren’t a feeling someone decides to fight for on a particular day, it’s a constant movement that certain groups of people feel will never end.

The first and longest in run time in a five film anthology series by director Steve McQueen, Mangrove is a look into social injustice and discrimination in a part of the world most Americans never would have given a second thought about. Owned and operated by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the Mangrove restaurant is constantly raided by police for gambling and illegal activity most notoriously by police constable Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell). The patrons of the Mangrove are mostly of West Indian and Caribbean decent living in Notting Hill where the restaurant is located. PC Pulley bases his raids on the Mangrove on Frank’s previous business known as the Rio. 

The restaurant is also used part time for Black Panther activist meetings conducted by Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) and Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby). When it’s one raid too many, Darcus convinces Frank to lead a protest that would end with riot and affray charges for what would come to be known as the Mangrove Nine. 

Mangrove is the second protest / courtroom drama released in 2020, the first being The Trial of the Chicago 7. While that famous point in history focuses on the incitement of a riot in America, race and social injustice aren’t the main focus of that story. Mangrove, however, gives a voice to a specific group who at one point felt voiceless. That is the whole point of the Small Axe Anthology series by McQueen and writing partners Alastair Siddons & Courttia Newland. Civil rights didn’t start in the 1960’s, people have been fighting for their rights for centuries but its thanks to McQueen and his team that the scope is made wider for people to discover the injustice and learn about activists other than Dr. Martin Luther King JR. and Malcolm X. 

That’s why Altheia is such an important person not only to the film but to history as a whole. Letitia Wright has such a fierce and passionate presence on screen bringing this historic person to life in a different medium. It’s ironic that Wright appears in the film Black Panther but to play an actual Black Panther who has such a resounding voice in the British Civil Rights Movement and who represented herself in court must be seen as an accomplishment. Her performance is powerful and resonating but its Shaun Parkes performance as Frank that deserves most of the attention.

It’s heartbreaking to see a man break the way Frank was broken by years of racial profiling and discrimination. Without realizing it, Frank creates a community and that feeling is felt in every scene that takes place in the restaurant. The atmosphere is electric when patrons are eating, drinking and dancing. These few scenes bring a juxtaposition to the more sever tone the courtroom when the trial is in full swing. Two scenes in particular that showcase the heart and soul of Frank and what he means to the story are when hes put in the small cell after a recess in court and at the end when Frank stands expecting to hear his guilty verdict. 

Malachi’s performance cannot go unnoticed either. His performance is full of optimism that channels the rage and anger through. With representing himself, that allows him to cross-examine witnesses and his intelligence singlehandedly destroys the Crowns case. Aided by Ian Macdonald (Jack Lowden) as more of a cheerleader who takes several not-so-subtle shots at judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings), the focus of Mangrove is heavily focused on the defendants not the white character who is usually seen as a savior to these types of biopics. 

Shot selection and cinematography are expertly choregraphed to express the raw emotion crafted by McQueen. The use of the shot on Frank when hes put in the cell from the vantage point of the small window is traced back to Darcus’s cross examination of PC Pulley destroying his testimony. The courtroom drama portion is filled with uncertainty by the defendants because of the judge but there is so much he can bend within the law. At some point judge Clarke would have to see things in a somewhat unbiased impartial perspective even if it’s not explicit in the fact. The Mangrove Nine have a better case against the prosecution – they are far more prepared to defend themselves because that’s all they know. 

Since Mangrove is the longest film in Small Axe, the pacing has to be established well enough to keep the interest of the viewer. Each scene is perfectly balanced to keep the film from lagging too far behind and having to play catch up.

Mangrove is one of the best films of the year that should be up for awards contention. It’s a riveting courtroom drama that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. Backed by three powerful and brave performances, Mangrove shows racism, discrimination and social injustice from a different perspective. Each character’s ideas and motivations are developed well enough to feel the pain, suffering and hope that each character has gone through. As much as Mangrove is a part of the Small Axe anthology series, it stands on its own two feet. If I were to rate Mangrove, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5. 

So, tell me, have you seen Mangrove and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

Mangrove is written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons and directed by Steve McQueen is Rated R and has a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Mangrove was released on November 20, 2020 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 8 minutes. Mangrove and the Small Axe Anthology series can be streamed on Amazon Prime video. 

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