Now where have I heard that title before??
And what does it mean to be Small and an Axe??
Here we go!
Now if you haven't heard that saying before and listened to the song above - I invite you to press play and read those lyrics again!
And whilst the song is playing, it like the series is a revolutional, inspirational powerhouse - aiding us with momentum and strength to continue to fight a system - hell bent on oppression. As to read the following consider these questions…
How do we collectively sharpen our axe?
And are we really ready to chop the tree down?
Talking of collectively, I thought Small Axe the series was a great introduction into the Black British experience.
And rather than review each episode, this review will review the collective. As I think that it demands that (as do we), and so I have found that it is only natural to look at the whole, rather than an aspect. Saying that - there is definitely room for another collection… and I channel the commission of season 2 of Small Axe that will look more thoroughly at the *Black British* communities' very important purpose here... In Britain and on the planet.
Zoom Out perspective
- for those who do not identify with the label Black and British.
The Small Axe series does a brilliant job at showing how brave, audacious, real Black Britains challenged that big tree.
Darcus howell, Leroy Logan, Alex Wheatle work (collectively) as our very own Black superheroes that challenged institutions. And a further look into 'education' and 'house parties', explored in the other two, changed the lens to how 1) education has let us down because of its white central perspective and 2) how our energy is charged through music.
Zoomed out - the small axe series in itself works as a great research model and great programming for all of our young. It is also a starter for those outside of this experience.
How do I (Identifying as Black British) know?
Well... I listened as a White British person revealed how informative she found the series. It taught her a perspective that she had overlooked, and as a techer (that has non-white students), she found the series essential viewing! I listen, to the response from people outside of this experience - and the feedback, review, they have given.
Small Axe the Series kind of reminded me of the August Wilson 10 plays ‘The Pittsburgh Cycle'. August Wilson, an African American playwright, explores the experiences and heritage of the African American diaspora over the decades. He documents them using the vehicle of theatre (some have transcended into film) and this has helped the world to understand and admire them (the African in America) as a collective. Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis is one of his plays that is also a film. And with the up and coming expression of the Black British experience in the media, Small Axe brilliantly introduces not just White Britains but African Americans (and uneducated black britains) to our fight for integration.
Zoom in perspective
- for those who do identify with the label Black and British.
So what did the inhouse people think of the series?
The inhouse massive questioned its authenticity and accuracy. Notably the episode Lovers Rock, in particular the house party scene where they are singing collectively that infamous Janet Kay song
The lack of representation and our stories hardly ever being aired (especially at prime time) I think, added to the harsh criticism. I say this because as a creative, I appreciated the creative take offered by Steve McQueen and understood how something can be based on events without having to be accurate to the T!
I do think if we had more shows like Small Axe, the artistic value of the Lovers Rock scene offered subliminal power through sound, dance and community would have been read more clearly. And to further my point I think that the episodes that were based on actual superheroes were recieved better because we are so deficient of representation, this is what we actually want, need and yearn for!!
McQueen’s stamped perspective
Speaking of the Lovers Rock scene - there were many other stamped shots that are typical of Steve McQueen and his work, that we may not have appreciated as iconic (as at times it was slightly distracting).
I kind of see the McQueen stamp similar to Spike Lee.
If you’re a Spike Lee buff you know a Spike Lee Joint is going to have someone speak directly to the lens even though the established style is fourth wall.
What Steve McQueen managed to achieve in the Small Axe series is
the MAgiiiick which is us... Black and British!!
I’ll give you an example.
In the Small Axe episode Red, White and Blue, the Leroy Logan episode - there’s a scene where Leroy is going to start his training for the police. His father drives him there, and there is strong tension between father and son (that's all I'll say *NO SPOILER*)!
So... Leroy gets out of the car, and his father follows him - but the camera stays inside, filming from the back seat.
We only can see, as they are too far away from the car to hear.
We see father embrace son in a hug through the window, and it reminded me again of the zoomed in- zoomed out perspective.
Here we have the BBC and Amazon Prime/ YouTube - instituitions in their own right, show a series that they most definetely are zoomed out of. It reminded me that not everything we do and say needs to be heard... but our visibility is vital!
This shot was epic to me also because it reinforced the importance of the father and son relationship, especially the Black British father and son relationship - to which I am not a part of but had the privilige of observing... and I'm secue in that!
When I was little I was travelling in the back seat of my dads car with my brother (I spent a lot of time in this position as a child). My older brother was in the passenger seat and I was in the back, and I'd sit their listening to the conversations between father and son.. the good, bad and ugly…
and I remember this one time, my dad and brother started to have this heated debate. My dad stopped the car and told my brother to get out of the car so they could talk.
PAUSE - For years I've gone over this particular event in my head, and felt like the outsider, like I was not included... is it because I'm female? Too little? Not loved? False.
Forward - So I'm sat watching Red, White and Blue, and I'm watching this Steve McQueen stamped shot and realised I too had been in that position, sat in the back - exactly as the camera man was, watching my dad and brother communicate without words because the words they spoke to each other as
the Father and the Son...
was NONE OF MY BUSINESS!
Ultimately there is a big demand for more of the series of Small Axe, and that can be seen by the response both in Britain and the States. Zoomed in and out!
Let's make some noise and shoutout and celebrate those axes that the camera doesn't capture... the behind the scene AXES like Courtia Newland who wrote episodes on Small Axe and Coral Messam the choreographer on Lovers Rock - as we need many small axes to truly chop down this deep rooted, overgrown tree!
Catch the much loved series on
Including my favourite episode on YouTube (Click the link for the reveal :))
and more importantly - listen to a more expanded review of the themes covered in Small Axe on BBC Sounds
Here's the PROMO.
Lost a star because... there was a star missing Sharla...Reviews <3