The lines between what is TV and what is a movie have never been shakier. A few years ago, the third season of Twin Peaks caused a controversy as some outlets considered it a TV show and others considered it a movie. Long-form 30 for 30 OJ: Made in America won an Oscar, and the Academy then changed its rules to ensure copycat series-length movies cannot win in the future, meaning The Last Dance is ineligible this year. Still, nothing really prepared us for director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series.
The series aired in the UK as five separate weekly installments, and was similarly put up on Amazon Prime in America on a weekly basis. Still, each so-called episode was a distinct, stand-alone feature film. As such, the industry has struggled to categorize it. Is it a show? A movie? Is each installment its own movie? No one has really been certain, meaning it seems poised to compete for Emmys instead of Oscars, but has also been named to critics associations best-of 2020 lists.
Essentially, though, the whole thing is semantics, and the ultimate point to be made with Small Axe is that it’s an extraordinary director working at the top of his game. McQueen, who also directed 12 Years a Slave and Widows, has made his series of films about the West Indian culture in London during the 60s and 70s. The films range in subject matter and genre, tackling the courtroom drama, a coming-of-age film, a dance party movie and more.
Collectively, they are the Small Axe anthology, but individually they are called Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red, White and Blue, Alex Wheatle and Education. No one seems exactly sure how to categorize them, but one thing is for certain: If you’re looking for well-directed, well-shot films that explore history and culture, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology might be just what you’re looking for.
All five Small Axe films are now streaming on Prime Video.