A major theme of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series is West Indian joy. West Indian immigrants’ struggles against state resistance to everyday black life. In a rather profound contrast to McQueen’s other work—in which long takes of suffering bodies draw the viewer into the inescapability of the pain experienced by his subjects—joy disrupted provides the counterpoint to bodies in pain. Striking this balance between suffering and joyous bodies is one of the reasons that McQueen’s series may be his best effort yet to move between art cinema and popular genres. The various films in Small Axe fit in disparate genres, but all but one clearly fit into the category of racial injustice films. But McQueen’s play with genre is what allows him to creative straddle the line between hope and Afropessimism.
How Long, Not Long: A Take on Black Joy
Rebecca A. Wanzo is professor and chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests include African American literature and culture, critical race theory, feminist theory, cultural studies, theories of affect, and graphic storytelling. She is the author of The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging (NYU Press, 2020) and The Suffering Will Not Be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling (SUNY Press, 2009).
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Rebecca Wanzo; How Long, Not Long: A Take on Black Joy. Film Quarterly 1 June 2021; 74 (4): 51–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2021.74.4.51
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