Bringing Black British history to the classroom, BBC Teach releases an educational series based on Steve McQueen’s Small Axe

Based on the miniseries created by the Oscar-winning British filmmaker, BBC Creative has released a set of five films aiming to change the ways in which Black history is taught in schools.

11 December 2020

Now has never been a better time to educate yourself on the history of our country, especially when it comes to Black history. Doing just that is a new series of five educational films, produced in partnership with BBC Teach and Steve McQueen and based on the five Small Axe films, currently airing on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

The anthology series aims to help bring Black British history to life with the younger generation in mind. The commission is part of an ongoing push with BBC Education to ensure the wider part of BBC’s resources better reflect and represent the stories of all communities in the UK. As such, the series is presented in a cluster of five classroom videos that are available to download for free – accompanied by activities for teachers in order to assist in lesson planning and engage the pupils.

“Using the stories in Steve McQueen's Small Axe films, we’ve made resources that make it as easy as possible for teachers to teach them.” says Sarah Fox and Adam Reincke, creatives at BBC Creative, in an announcement. With an aim to continue the legacy of Small Axe and go beyond the launch of the films, the team hope to make a difference as to how Black history is taught in schools.

“We know that teachers are hungry for more diverse classroom resources,” says Helen Foulkes, head of BBC Education, in the release. The 5x5 minute classroom videos include footage from the initial five films, and features some of the actors, too – such as Line of Duty’s Rochenda Sandall, Top Boy’s Michael Ward, and former Metropolitan Police Superintendent Leroy Logan MBE.

With two films currently available at BBC Teach, featuring animations by South African company Bewilder, more are set to be arriving soon. But first, you can watch The Mangrove Nine, whereby actress Rochenda Sandall plays one of The Mangrove Nine in McQueen’s Small Axe, telling the story of a group of British Black activists tried for stirring a riot at a protest against the police in 1970. Another film, Blues Parties, is available and features actor Michael Ward who plays Franklin – exploring the eruption of Blues parties in London, which were house parties held by the West Indian community.

The films tell the stories of the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s up until the mid-1980s and, although set in a time a few decades ago, presents stories that have never been more relevant today. Small Axe, in this sense, is a necessary celebration of Black love, joy and friendship. “Through the genius of Steve McQueen, they feel as electric, urgent and timely as if they were stories from today,” says Faye Jones, marketing manager at BBC One. “We are honoured that he chose the BBC to bring these incredible films to audiences and are delighted that through BBC Education they will live on in classrooms around the UK.”

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BBC Teach and Steve McQueen: Small Axe. Still from Lovers Rock video.

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Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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