“Education,” Episode 5 of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, January 19, 2021, Amazon Prime.
Formal education is the theme here. Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy) is an energetic 12-year old from a ‘solid’ Afro-Caribbean British working-class family in about 1975. He loves rockets, wants to be an astronaut, and can’t read. He’s targeted by teachers at his school and sent to a ‘special’ school that’s really designed to dead-end him. The story follows the community’s efforts to resist these practices which disproportionately target their children. It is about organizing (led by women) and resisting, the community educating itself and seizing on education as resistance. In that, it’s not too different from several other more individualized stories in this series including “Alex Wheatle” and “Mangroove” that highlight the power of, and need for, real education to resist the abuses of British racism, including the educational system itself.
For many folks this is their favorite or second favorite piece in this series. I thought the acting was fine, especially Sandy’s work and that of his sister (Tamara Lawrence). But the kindnesses within the community felt forced, excessive and without sufficient edge. And the turnarounds are all too perfect for me. It’s an important topic and merits the work, but there are parts of it that seemed too much like a sermon. After giving it a bit more thought (a week or so), I think that one of the main things limiting and flattening this episode is the lack of the musical backdrop that was so crucial in the other four episodes. It’s just not there and the energy that it brought is absent.