Sir Steve McQueen fulfils ambition to direct BBC series on Brixton Uprising

protest march
The Black People’s Day of Action. Photo: Tim Ring/Alamy

A new series on the Brixton Uprising and the events leading up to it is coming to the BBC this year, directed by Oscar-winner Sir Steve McQueen.

Uprising is a three-part documentary series, with each episode lasting an hour.

It will cover the New Cross fire, The Black People’s Day of Action that followed the fire and the Brixton Riots that took place not long after that.

McQueen’s previous BBC series Small Axe earned 15 BAFTA nominations, including for the actors Letitia Wright and John Boyega.

The films focussed on the West Indian community in the UK, from the 1960s to 1980s.

Alex Wheatle, one of the Small Axe dramas, centred on the Brixton writer.

Uprising will be co-directed by James Rogan, who most recently directed Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation, about Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by racists in South London 18 years ago.

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McQueen, who directed his debut film Hunger in 2008 and Oscars Best Picture 12 Years a Slave in 2013, has said the programme will use “testimonials from the survivors, investigators, activists and representatives of the machinery of state.

“We can only learn if we look at things through the eyes of everyone concerned,” he added.

The New Cross fire took place on 18 January 1981 and resulted in the death of 13 young Black people.

Although the cause has never been identified officially, and two inquests returned open verdicts, many people believed it to be a racially motivated arson attack.

Anger at the official response to the fire led to the organisation of the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March, by the New Cross Massacre Action Committee.

.More than 20,000 people joined a historic march through London.

Uprising also features the 1981 Brixton Riots, which took place from 10 to 12 April, and resulted in more than 300 people being injured.

“What happened and how Britain responded to it is a story that has been waiting to be told in depth for 40 years.

“In the series, survivors and the key participants will give their account of the fire, the aftermath, the impact it had on the historic events of 1981 and the profound legacy it has left behind,” McQueen said.

The cast is yet to be confirmed. 

During an interview on his directorial debut, Hunger, McQueen revealed what a pivotal year 1981 was in his own life and how, almost 10 years before, he had hoped to work on something covering the riots for the BBC.

Hunger, about Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands, is also set in 1981. He died on 5 May, 40 years ago.

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