CREATIVE SPACE #5  of 2021 (uploaded March 4th 2021)

CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It continues to expand across other media platforms (which can be viewed on AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean authorjournalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.

Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on March 3rd 2021  in the Daily Observer:  Small Axe Big Talent

Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.

If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the online edition of CREATIVE SPACE and/or CREATIVE SPACE on YouTube, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.

CREATIVE SPACE:  Small Axe, Big Talent


It’s awards season – Sunday (February 28th 2021) was the Golden Globes, and between March and April, there’s more to come than I can mention. Beyond the various guild awards (of which the April 4th Screen Actors Guild is sure to be a highlight) and the various critics’ awards (notably the March 7th Critics Choice Awards), highlights will include the March 27th NAACP Image Awards (for Black excellence across arts and entertainment), the April 11th BAFTAs (that’s the British Oscars), and, of course, the Oscars, which brings the curtain down on awards season with its April 25th broadcast. It’s been an odd season, the rules having had to adjust to the times – notably, zooms with all its attendant tech difficulties in lieu of super spreader events, and relaxation of qualification rules for films in light of theatres being closed and most having to default to streaming, blurring the lines between TV and big screen movie. My love of the arts extends to movies, and, though I’m not as invested as I used to be in awards season, I watch them and track the progress of my favourites like some do sports. And this year, I have even more reason to be invested.


Small Axe, a five film anthology series chronicling the Black British experience, is directed by Oscar winner Steve McQueen (Shame12 Years a SlaveWidows) and aired on the BBC and Amazon Prime. Antiguan and Barbudan Shabier Kirchner is the cinematographer.

Full disclosure, I’ve so far only watched the first film in the series, Mangrove, which spotlights the Black West Indian experience with racism and police oppression while trying to make life in Britain in the 1960s. And, like the Aaron Sorkin-penned-and-directed awards season contender, The Trial of the Chicago 7, it re-imagines a famous civil rights trial – the trial of the Mangrove 9 in 1971. Both historical flashpoints are timely in light of the 2020 Black Lives Matter FedUPrising, reminders that anti-Blackness is persistent and pervasive across the globe. I liked both, but unapologetically favour Mangrove just a tad more – and look forward to watching the other films in the series (the buzzy Lovers’ RockRed, White and Blue for which John Boyega won best supporting actor – television at the Globes on Sunday; Alex Wheatle; and Education). If you care about such things, all five have Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic ratings mostly in the high 80s and 90s.

But Small Axe which, per reporting, was always intended for television is not eligible for the major film awards (though in a year when filmed play, not film adapted, Hamilton was up for TV awards, why not?). It is still in play for awards at the March 7th Critics Choice Television Awards, the April 22nd Independent Spirit Awards, and probably the Emmys when they come around.

Shabier has already won as cinematographer at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, the latter having awarded Small Axe best film as well.

Accepting his NYFCC Award, via video, Shabier said, “I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever receive anything like this…I really want to thank my home, the West Indies, my family, the culture, I see you. I love you. Bless up.”

Scene from Mangrove featuring Black Panther's Letitia Wright.

Shabier also received a nomination from the Chicago Film Critics Association and was runner up for the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, behind Oscar frontrunner after Sunday’s best picture Globe win Nomadland. See what I mean about the blurred lines.

I haven’t had the opportunity to interview Shabier yet – I hope to – but I have been following his career for a while. You can find interview and other news links if you search his name on Wadadli Pen; and I wrote about Dadli, the beautiful and gritty short he directed in 2018, in ‘CREATIVE SPACE 11 of 2020 – It’s Not All About Netflix‘. But 2020 is a breakthrough year if ever there was one. It’s been a treat to scope his rise and, in 2020, to hear the Antiguan accent pop up in unlikely spaces, for instance in the 58th New York Film Festival conversation (also virtual) with the director, co-writer, some of the actors, and, of course, Shabier. When it comes to film, I’m one of the junkies who enjoys hearing how the sausage gets made so I enjoyed hearing him talk about how he approached capturing these stories – “the truth is on the page,” he said, “…we just approached it like we would any feature film, and we just went from there, each story had its own identity and that identity revealed itself as we got closer to making it.”

protest scene Mangrove 2
protest scene Mangrove

In that discussion, his cinematography, and especially his handling of crowd scenes, both the anger and aggression of protest and the joyful energy of West Indian street dancing in Mangrove, for instance, was singled out, by the audience (via their questions and comments about the way the camera participates in the crowd scenes) and his colleagues, for praise. McQueen said, “Shabier has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. He’s a skater and a sailor …and his sense of balance is ridiculous…his center of gravity is unbelievable.” Shabier responded, “technically I don’t know ….some of it is quite intuitive… it’s very hard to explain looking back on it…we were in the dance and something spiritual happened and it was like jazz…like dancing.” Whatever spirit and instinct moved him on the strength of Mangrove alone, I agree that the framing, energy, and movement of the images is a highlight, and I look forward to seeing what this young brother does with Augustown, the McQueen produced film based on the Kei Miller novel, that has been announced as his feature directorial debut.


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