A profile of activist Alex Wheatle is the fourth installment of Steve McQueen‘s ‘Small Axe’ anthology. Wheatle was jailed for his role in London’s 1981 Brixton Uprising, a period of civil unrest in the wake of deep disparities in economic opportunity and police presence in south London during the Margaret Thatcher regime. Wheatle then went on to be a noted author and speaker. Wheatle is played at different ages by Asad-Shareef Muhammad and Sheyi Cole.
Via Hollywood Reporter:
The biggest eye-opener for Alex is the tragedy of the New Cross fire of 1981, in which 13 young Black people were killed and many more injured. While the cause was never established and no arrests were made, an act of arson was suspected, sparking a wave of protests while the Thatcher government remained silent. McQueen makes the powerhouse choice of showing both the wreckage of the blaze and the protests exclusively in black and white news photographs, accompanied by the scalding verses of Jamaican spoken word artist Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “New Crass Massakah.”
Unrest in the Black community escalates, leading to the Brixton Uprising, which is depicted on a small scale but with visceral force, as young Black men including Alex face down lines of cops with riot shields.
Here’s Wheatle talking about his childhood as a ward of the state:
He took the Guardian on a tour of Brixton to show the gentrification since his childhood.
The McQueen film premieres this month.
Image: YouTube / Amazon Prime Video