Why Sam Spurrell stray complicated gagged in streets!

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The group was also called the Chicago Eight. Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Mateen) was arraigned with the seven, even when he had nothing to do with the planning of the demonstration. He was there just for four hours, to make a speech, but he was thrown in with the seven, just to make a point. Racism is in the frame from the beginning, as we see Seale struggling to be heard. But his voice is quelled by Judge Julius Hoffman (Langella), who refuses to listen. It takes a shocking incident involving Seale being dragged off ‘to be dealt with’ by the marshals, and brought back into the court-room, gagged and bound, to drive home the point. Someone asks him, ‘can you breath?’ It’s a bit obvious, but you know exactly what’s being referenced. The question also forces viewers to examine how far the US has moved from then to now, not just in terms of all-round racist behaviour, but in terms of the much wider issue of freedom. What you can do, what you can say, and how far you can go, are all questions that are constantly being asked in today’s America.

As they are in India. Watching the vicious attack on protestors, with cops riding on the back of complicit officialdom, reminds you of the similar things happening around us. The trial of the Chicago Seven took over six months before the defendants walked free. Closer home, with protestors being charge-sheeted and arrested, freedom seems a long way off. As this rousing and timely film shouts out, channeling the popular cry of those times: the whole world is watching.

The dramatic story of the Mangrove Nine, when a group of Black British activists fought back against racist police raids in a tense series of courtroom showdowns, practically pitched itself as a movie when it unfolded in 1970. (They were acquitted of most charges, but the raids didn’t stop.) It only took 50 years, but writer-director Steve McQueen’s “Mangrove” works overtime to fill the gap, resulting in a delectable crowdpleaser both specific to its moment and relevant today.

Produced as part of the filmmaker’s ambitious five-film “Small Axe” anthology about Black British Londoners across several decades, “Mangrove” is a taut and thrilling judicial drama that transcends the genre even while acknowledging its barriers. Just as he used the heist genre as a Trojan horse for sociopolitical concerns, McQueen turns the courtroom formula inside out. In following the trial, “Mangrove” delves into the usual assemblage of passionate monologues about equal rights and dedication to the cause. But it’s also grounded in a detailed ecosystem so rich with the sentiments of the moment that it eventually makes an old routine feel new.

McQueen excels at building immersive environments and positioning conflicted people within their confines, with backdrops that pulsate with life. In “Mangrove,” the atmosphere is so palpable you can smell it, but that might just be the kitchen: The title refers to the West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill run by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), a stoic Trinidadian immigrant whose spicy cuisine provided a sanctuary for London’s evolving community of artists and intellectuals at the time. Keen on remaining apolitical until he’s left no choice, Crichlow provides the ideal centerpiece for a movie steeped in an age-old conflict between the safest option and the right one. “This is a restaurant, not a battleground,” he says at one point. The movie tracks his growing awareness that it’s obviously both.

Faced with relentless police raids on non-existent charges led by the heinous officer Frank Pulley (a slimy Sam Spurrell), Crichlow eventually joins forces with Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright, more subdued than Shuri in “Black Panther” but certainly complimenting that role) and others to organize a protest march — a feat that inevitably erupts into violence as the police lash out.