TV & Movies

Letitia Wright Feels "A Responsibility To Make Our Elders Proud" After Small Axe

She takes on the role of activist Altheia Jones-LeCointe in Steve McQueen's Mangrove.

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Steve McQueen's Small Axe anthology isn't just bringing Black British history into the mainstream, it is making it primetime viewing, too. "The BBC is moving the 10 p.m. News for us," said Letitia Wright in an interview with 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."

In the first of five films, Mangrove, tells the real-life story of Frank Crichlow's arrest and trial. Together with eight others – including Altheia Jones-LeCointe, played by Wright – Crichlow is wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray after a protest the police targeting of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill.

The story is a moving one, and one that clearly had a lasting impact on Wright herself. “I asked [director] Steve [McQueen] if I could meet [Jones-LeCointe] and he was supportive,” said the actress. “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.”

Jones-LeCointe was one of the "Mangrove nine" and was part of the British Black Panther movement. She is now a physician and research scientist in Trinidad.

Describing the meeting in the Radio Times interview, Wright said she got the “feeling of a baton being passed on to this generation. They were fighting for something bigger than themselves at that time.”

“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.”

Small Axe: Mangrove premieres on BBC One at 9 p.m. on Nov. 15