In “Small Axe”, Letitia Wright plays a real black panther

In a phone interview, Wright discussed his introduction to the ‘Small Axe’ project, the layered nature of racism in British society and the importance of telling stories about black life in Britain on a large scale. . These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

How did you first become involved in “Small Axe?”

In 2015 I saw a listing on IMDb for an upcoming project that would examine the life of the Caribbean community in England. I thought, “Wow, that’s me!” I come from Guyana. [Wright was born in Georgetown, and moved to London at the age of 7.] Geographically it’s in South America, but our culture is very Caribbean influenced, and we’re considered Caribbean. I asked my agent to keep track of it, and thank goodness she did.

In 2018, I was vacationing in Trinidad and Tobago, and I received an email saying that Steve McQueen and Gary [Davy, casting director] wanted to meet me about what was now called “Small Axe”. I was like, “Wow, cool, so they are still doing it!

I know Steve is a great artist, but I wanted to probe his brain a bit. Why this story, why now? He said: “The window for telling the stories of our elders is closing. We cannot allow them to die and become our ancestors without seeing themselves, their culture, and all that they brought to the country depicted on screen. I was sold, so at the end of the meeting I said “When do I have to audition?” He looked at me, then at Gary, and said, “You just auditioned. It was all the work you did and created in the world. He trusted me from the start, and I will always hold that experience very dear to me.

What did you know about Mangrove’s history in the project?

I grew up with my father who gave me books on Egypt, taught me about the kings and queens of Africa and Mansa Moussaand educating me that, as a people, we were not slaves but we were Frslave. But, curiously, I did not know the different aspects of our history in Britain.

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