Black Panther star Letitia Wright is clearly passionate about starring in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe drama anthology, a set of dramas that are deemed so important that the BBC is moving the 10pm news to accommodate their running time.
Wright plays activist Altheia Jones-Lecointe in the first of the five feature-length dramas set among London’s West Indian community from the late ’60s to the mid ’80s.
Mangrove is the tale of the arrest and trial of Frank Crichlow, the owner of a West Indian restaurant in London’s Notting Hill, who in 1970 was one of nine men and women wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray after a protest about racial discrimination by the police.
Wright explained to Radio Times: “So much gets lost within our black British history and it’s important that a beautiful light is shone on these stories. It’s wonderful how everyone’s going out of their way to make this happen – the BBC is moving the 10pm News for us. They’ve been a big supporter and champion of us, and of [Oscar-winning writer/director] Steve McQueen.”
Her character, Jones-Lecointe, was involved in the British Black Panther movement and one of the people arrested. She is now a physician and research scientist in Trinidad and Wright felt it was essential to meet the woman she was about to portray.
“I asked Steve if I could meet her and he was supportive,” said Wright. “It was wonderful getting to know her, to let her know I wasn’t trying to be a replica of her, I just wanted to represent her spirit – who she was as a person back then and the values that she still holds now.”
Wright feels a commitment to unearthing and celebrating these stories, a passion that was underlined when she met Jones-Lecointe and got the “feeling of a baton being passed on to this generation. They were fighting for something bigger than themselves at that time”.
She added: “I definitely walked away with a sense of not wanting to look back at myself years from now and say, “Hey Tish, you were making the wrong decision, not just as a young person but as a young black woman.” I felt a responsibility to make our elders proud. That group of elders did so much for us to make change in the short space of time they were given back then.”
Mangrove is the first in the five-part Small Axe series, which also features Star Wars actor John Boyega starring in Red, White and Blue, the story of Leroy Logan, a black police officer who joined the force in the 1980s, spent three decades in the Met and was awarded an MBE for his work in tackling racism.
Small Axe premieres on BBC One on Sunday 15th November at 9pm.
Read the full interview in Radio Times magazine, on sale from Tuesday 10th November.