As a Guyanese actor who moved to the United Kingdom as a child, Letitia Wright had not heard the story of the Mangrove Nine growing up.
“The West Indian community is very strong here in the UK, too.” Wright continued, “In the midst of that, growing up, I’d never heard of The Mangrove Nine. And I was quite shocked that I didn’t know.” The reality is, Letitia Wright is not alone.
It’s been said that Britain’s Black Power movement is at risk of being forgotten. What is the danger of erasing this history of resistance?
The Mangrove Nine were a group of Black British activists who congregated at the Mangrove restaurant (a popping West Indian hangout during the era). The venue provided respite for Black people during a fraught time in London’s history—it’s no surprise that the West Indians who frequented the Mangrove were targeted by white police officers with tactics of intimidation and brutality. The Mangrove’s patrons protested the injustice, only to be arrested and tried in a historic 1970 case.
Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen adapted the story of the Mangrove Nine in the Small Axe anthology—a series of five feature-length films focusing on the struggle for Black power and liberation in the United Kingdom during the 1970s and 1980s.
In Mangrove, Wright portrays Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a Trinidadian physician, organizer and leader within the British Black Power movement. The Black Panther actor had the opportunity to meet Jones-LeCointe—who is now 75 years old—ahead of becoming the activist on-screen. Wright admits that even though she was a bit nervous during her encounter with the icon, the meeting was nothing short of “beautiful.”
“I feel from my experience of meeting her that her life mission and message is for the unity and organization of our people. Fair treatment. And for us, most importantly, to love ourselves as Black people.”
Mangrove Nine will be available Nov. 20 on Amazon Prime Video.