Education (2020)

As the title of this final instalment of the Small Axe series would imply, Education seems laser-focused on bringing attention to a highly specific issue casting a very long and ominous shadow over Britain’s relationship with what is commonly referred to as systemic racial discrimination. Even though the story Steve McQueen uses as the vehicle for this conversation isn’t directly tied to a historical figure, the problem at hand is real and tactile. Kingsley Smith, the young boy at the epicentre of the narrative, is likely a compound character meant to symbolize the plight of thousands (if not more) of kids from ethnic backgrounds who have been let down by the system and openly disadvantaged by a covertly racist policy of moving children from such backgrounds – who may also be struggling with the curriculum – to special needs schools, thus ruining their chances to have a successful life or a career.  

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Alex Wheatle (2020)

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” 

On the surface Alex Wheatle fits harmoniously within the greater thematic landscape of Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe. Similarly to Mangrove and Red, White and Blue it uses a historical figure as an anchor to which he tethers a politically-relevant discussion about the trials and tribulations of black Britons. However, underneath the epidermis of its poignant social commentary, McQueen has hidden a tangential theme that gives the film a slightly different thematic hue. 

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Red, White and Blue (2020)

“Big change… that is a slow-turning wheel”, says Ken Logan (Steve Touissant) in the final scene of Red, White and Blue. He says it to his son, Leroy (John Boyega) and the two men share a moment together where they both acknowledge the burden of responsibility they carry, the crosses they both have to bear. Leroy’s cross is that of stalwart resilience as he fights against institutional racism deeply seated within the police force he is a part of. Ken’s cross is that of unwavering support for his son’s quest for change. They both realize the gravity of their undertaking as they raise their glasses before the scene cuts to black.  

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Lovers Rock (2020)

Lovers Rock, Steve McQueen’s ode to a subgenre of reggae, can be discussed as just that – a nostalgic anthem for a very specific point in time at the precipice of the 1980s, which he may have briefly brushed against as he was growing up himself. In fact, this is how this film is often reviewed: an experiential play on the spirit of cinéma vérité celebrating a shared legacy of Londoners of West Indian descent and paying due homage to a transcendental power music holds over people’s souls. But is so much more than that.  

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Mangrove (2020)

It’s great that films like Mangrove exist. However, I would like to wake up in a world where they are no longer needed, a world where Martin Luther King’s dream has become reality. Yet, his dream for his four little children to live in a world where they are judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character remains just that – a dream. To make it a reality the world needs all the help it can afford: activists, leaders, martyrs… and storytellers who will use their talents to help us focus and contextualize the values we want to – and must – fight for.  

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