In a phone interview, Wright discussed his introduction to the Small Ax 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 come to get involved in Small Ax?
In 2015, I saw a listing on IMDb for an upcoming project that would focus on Caribbean community life in England. I thought, Wow, it’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 heavily influenced by the Caribbean, and we are considered Caribbean. I asked my agent to follow up, and thank God she did.
In 2018, I was on vacation in Trinidad and Tobago and received an email saying that Steve McQueen and Gary [Davy, casting director] wanted to meet with me about what was now called Small Ax. I was like, Wow, cool, so they are do it again!
I know Steve is a great artist, but I kinda wanted to choose his brain. Why this story, why now? He said: The window for 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 have contributed to the country depicted on screen. I was sold, so at the end of the meeting I said When should I audition? He looked at me, then at Gary, and said: You just had your audition. It was all the work that you did and created in the world. He trusted me from the start, and I will always keep this experience very dear to me.
What did you know about the history of Mangrove entering the project?
I grew up with my father giving me books on Egypt, teaching me about African kings and queens and Mansa Musa |, and educate myself that, as a people, we were not slaves but we were inslave. But, strangely enough, I didn’t know the different aspects of our history in Britain.
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