It took Steve McQueen a long time to make a film about  Black life in Britain. ''I needed to understand myself, where I came from,'' the director said of his new project, ''Small Axe.''

Sometimes, you've got to have a certain maturity, and I wouldn't have had that 10, 15 years ago.''

McQueen, who was born in West London to Grenadian and Trinidadian parents, is one of Britain's most gifted and garlanded Black Filmmakers. He's best known to American audiences as the director of the star-studded ''Widows'' from 2018 and ''12Years a Slave,'' in 2013, for which he became the first Black director of a best picture Oscar winner.

When he collected that trophy, McQueen was already developing the drama project with the BBC that would become ''Small Axe.''

Six years later, McQueen is debuting not one, but five films about various aspects of London's West Indian community, set between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s, airing the United States as an anthology series on Amazon Prime Video.

When ''Small Axe'' began development, the project was pitched to the BBC as conventional television, telling one story over six hours or so. [Amazon signed on as a producing partner last year.]

''To get my foot in the door, it started off  as a sort of episodic situation,'' McQueen said in a phone interview from Amsterdam, where he's lived since 1997. ''But then I realized they had to be individual films because there's too much interesting material.''

Today, the finished product comprises five discrete works of varying lengths [the shortest is 70 minutes; the longest 128 minutes], all directed and co-written by McQueen. [Courttia Newland co-wrote two episodes and Alastair Sidons co-wrote three.]

The installments were shot in a variety of formats [including 16mm and 35mm film] by the emerging Antiguan cinematographer Shabier Kirchner - the first three premiered at this year's New York Film Festival.

The films include an epic-scale, fact-based courtroom drama [''Mangrove''], a delicate semiautobiographical portrait [''Education''] and an intimate dance-party mood piece [''Lovers Rock''], with myriad tones and textures in between.

The series will air in Britain on BBC One, which is a matter of significance for McQueen. ''It was important for me that these films were broadcast on the BBC, because it has accessibility to everyone in the country.

''These are national histories''.

The World Students Society thanks author Ashley Clark.


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