“Big change: that is a slow turning wheel.”Kenneth Logan
The third of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Red, White and Blue presents Leroy Logan’s decision to join the Metropolitan police in 1983 with the intention of changing the organisation from within. Like Logan, growing up I was taught to avoid any interaction with the police as it carried inherent danger; I was an adult before I realised that this advice was not universal but something that ethnic minorities taught children for their safety. This sets up his father’s dismay at his choice and the sense of betrayal felt by some of the community. John Boyega is a fitting choice to play Leroy Logan, having been outspoken about racial inequality and faced backlash as a result; as Logan he carries himself with a determined zeal which makes his righteous, unbridled outbursts at racist treatment from his fellow officers feel entirely genuine. McQueen doesn’t shy away from overt racism and violence, but also explores the more insidious side of institutional racism, wherein we — like Logan — become hypersensitive to the motivations of every officer, and whether there are undertones to each question being asked. Superiors who may seem even-handed still close ranks to protect and promote white officers. The film is at its most powerful in portraying Logan’s isolation both within the force and within the community: one extended shot shows Boyega gazing out at an empty youth centre hall, unable to connect with the children he wants to help; in another he silently eyes his uniform, contemplating his choice and whether it makes him complicit; and later he sits alone in the locker room we have previously seen bustling, framed with deliberate awkwardness at the edge of the shot, staring off-screen. Thematically, it is telling that McQueen chose to focus on the early part of Logan’s career, with an ending showing only that he intends to persevere, reflecting the ongoing struggle to dismantle institutional racism.