Rounding off the incredible Small Axe series is Education. Veering away from police discrimination completely and focusing on the mistreatment of black children by the education system. Following schoolboy Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) who is sent to a school for the “educationally subnormal”, a grotesque term used throughout for children who struggle academically. Kingsley cannot read but is clearly very bright and has been sent to this school due to racial profiling and the lack of support provided for non-white children in mainstream education. Despite the promise of receiving one on one care and a class tailored to his specific needs, what Kingsley enters is a school that deprives its students of any lessons and any respect. The children are neglected with the assumption that they will enter “menial” jobs afterwards that don’t require a formal education. As Kingsley’s mum, Agnes (Sharlene Whyte) begins to question whether her son is really benefitting from his new classes. Along with a local politician, Agnes assists in helping bring the issues of the education system to light.
McQueen’s decision to conclude Small Axe with Education is an interesting one. There have been references to educational discrimination through Small Axe for example at the start of Red, White and Blue when we see a young Leroy Logan forced to undergo a stop and search right outside his school by police whilst wearing his uniform and there are references to Alex’s school performance in Alex Wheatle. This makes the thread into Education flow really nicely and finish the series showing that the problems lie within all systems. Starting with Kingsley at a planetarium with his class as they sit in a presentation on Andromeda which is then contrasted soon after with an English lesson in which he struggles to read an excerpt from Of Mice and Men, it’s clear that Kingsley is a capable student but needs more support from his teachers. Rather than offer more help and guidance, his English teacher chastises him in the middle of class and turns his struggle into a laughing stock. Immediately, we are introduced to the prejudice faced as Kingsley finds it hard to express to his mum why it is that he is being picked on constantly.
McQueen has a knack for picking great newcomers. As Kingsley, Kenyah Sandy is a perfect fit as he conveys that conflict that the character has perfectly. Wanting to please his mum and do well in school, Kingsley starts to miss mainstream education when it’s evident that his new school does not have his best interests at heart. With the help of his mum, sister and a Saturday school set up to help the children who aren’t being supported, Kingsley is given the opportunities that he should have been afforded. Watching the final scene in which he reads aloud to his family is one of great relief and emotion as Kingsley pushes through the doubts of those in the educational system who has wronged him. The maturity that Sandy brings is beyond his years and yet he acts as if he has a full understanding of the gravity of what has gone on.
A lot of the politics within the film is discussed among the adult characters and it is Sharlene Whyte as Kingsley’s mum, Agnes, is my personal highlight. Managing to juggle two jobs and her children’s wellbeing, Agnes may seem dismissive of Kingsley’s objections initially but grows to doubt the education system and their intentions. Whyte’s portrayal of Agnes is subtle and laid in such realism that you feel her struggle and horror as she learns of the racial bias that is happening to towards the black community. The scene in which she is at the group meeting she says few words but Whyte conveys a lot more through her expressions that words aren’t needed.
It goes without saying that watching Small Axe has been consistently thought-provoking and educational as well as captivating through McQueen’s impeccable talent for storytelling. I have said before how he is one of the most exciting filmmakers working in the industry today and releasing a feature film anthology series was a bold move that has paid off. Much like his initial career as an artist, McQueen is constantly pushing the envelope and developing new ways to convey a story through film in different ways. This is what is so exciting and it feels revolutionary to watch Small Axe. The brilliance of all five films, and Education in particular, is that they retain their impact even when watched on the.small screen which shows the mastery behind the writing and directing.
What did you think of Education? Let me know in the comments below!
Education is showing along with the rest of the Small Axe films on BBC iPlayer!