The director’s new Small Axe series kicks off with the landmark 1971 trial of the Mangrove Nine. It’s his aim to fill these gaps in British history, he says, and to open the industry to other black film-makers
Photographer Misan Harriman is gently cajoling actor Shaun Parkes as the sun burns through the morning cloud above St Michael’s church in Ladbroke Grove, west London. “Look at me as if you’re searching for redemption,” he says, as Parkes looks down the lens. “But it’s redemption for something you haven’t even done.” Parkes, who rose to prominence as a raver in Human Traffic but now has flecks of grey in his beard, doesn’t ask for more clarity; he simply flashes a look at the camera and then slowly changes pose.
Today Parkes and Harriman, who recently shot Vogue’s “Activism Now” September issue, along with portraits of Black Lives Matter protesters, are revisiting the west London area that is the setting of Steve McQueen’s new film, Mangrove. It’s a glorious September morning and, despite the Covid-19 restrictions, the cafes are busy and the flower shops open. It’s hard to imagine that 50 years earlier, a few streets away, there was a pitched battle between the police and protesters that would help change the way Britain thought about race. Parkes plays Frank Crichlow, the real-life figure at the heart of McQueen’s film, which centres on Notting Hill’s Mangrove restaurant and nine West Indians who fought police harassment and then a court case. The look of redemption that Harriman is searching for is something Crichlow and the Mangrove Nine earned the hard way.