Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series is truly a work of art from a cinematic perspective. These five entries, while not all perfect, do a great job in tackling an array of different and important issues. “Education” tackles the issue that I personally feel the most passionate about— schooling. Our story follows a young boy named Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy), who is a typical kid with an intense fascination with rockets and astronauts. The typical outbursts of a 12 year-old such as not listening in class and struggling to read force him to be sent to a school for those with special needs. This forces his working, distracted parents (Sharlene Whyte and Daniel Francis) to take matters into their own hands. What follows is a fight for equality for black children to get the education they deserve.
What follows is a scary relevant look at how hard it is to make the best educational system possible. McQueen isn’t an angry filmmaker but is someone who wants to make a point. This episode stands out via the dynamic created amongst Kingsley’s family and Sandy’s performance as Kingsley himself. There’s most definitely a sense that this family loves each other, but they’re not really listening to one another. Like most families, life gets busy and days get long, which makes what happens later that much more effective. Particularly in what Kingsley goes through, it makes what happens later that much more satisfying.
Sandy delivers one of the best performances that I saw last year having to balance child-like wonder with fear. We empathize instantly with this character because we completely understand who he is. There’s the classic notion of “show don’t tell” and that’s exactly what makes the film work. In a minimum of 63 minutes, McQueen crafts identifiable characters in a world that feels real and lived in. When Kingsley arrives in this “special school” as several characters call it, it feels like a dumping ground. Which makes the involvement of the eventual women’s group who are fighting for equality that much more satisfying. That’s primarily due to how we see these sort of groups in our modern world.
Set in 1970s England, the film very much feels like it could be set in any modern-day educational setting. The period detail is so immersive and creates a great sense of place, but feels very natural. I can’t deny how much this installment moved me, because it’s about a community coming together. I do want to be clear that this infatuation may come from the fact that I know several people who work in the education system. I was able to become so invested in this moving and honest story. Being as moved as I was by this, I can clearly say that this is my favorite of the “Small Axe” series. If you have any sort of personal investment, this is definitely a story you need to seek out.
The “Small Axe” franchise has become a truly brilliant cinematic staple covering a variety of different themes and ideas. We have a story that’s so incredibly fascinating and emotionally engaging, those 63 minutes fly right on by. Kenyah Sandy is so charming and empathetic that you just instantly root for him. McQueen made a story that should bring to light just how far our educational system hasn’t changed when it desperately needs to. Even if you don’t watch any of the “Small Axe” series, I urge you to watch this one. It will stir up so many different things that can provide insight into just how far we’ve come and what still needs to change.