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Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave and Widows, has started production on his long-gestating TV drama Small Axe.
The six-part anthology series — commissioned for the BBC with Amazon having boarded for the U.S. — is set to star Letitia Wright and John Boyega, and tell five stories set within London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the early ’80s.
Malachi Kirby (Curfew, Black Mirror, Roots), Shaun Parkes (Lost in Space, Hooten & the Lady), Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Alex Jennings (A Very English Scandal, Victoria) and Jack Lowden (The Long Song, Mary Queen of Scots) have also joined the cast.
Small Axe, which began shooting in London on June 24, was conceived and written by McQueen with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland. Alex Wheatle is a writing consultant to the series. The name derives from a Jamaican proverb which has resonance throughout the Caribbean, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” Small Axe is also the title of a Bob Marley song from his 1973 album Catch a Fire. It means that relatively marginal or small voices of dissent can successfully challenge more powerful voices.
“I felt these stories needed to be shared. I wanted to re-live, re-evaluate and investigate the journeys that my parents and the first generation of West Indians went on to deliver me here today calling myself a Black British person,” said McQueen.
“What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global. I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves. The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity hence the proverb Small Axe, ‘if you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ (Bob Marley).”
Small Axe is executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and McQueen for Lammas Park. Mike Elliot is producing for EMU Films with Turbine Studios and Anita Overland. BBC Worldwide is handling worldwide sales.
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