Meewella | Critic

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QuickView: Red, White and Blue (2020)

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

“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.


Small Axe anthology: Mangrove | Lovers Rock | Red, White and Blue | Alex Wheatle | Education

QuickView: Lovers Rock (2020)

Small Axe: Lovers Rock

“Move your feet! You don’t know who you’ll meet.”


The second of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock captures a single night at a West London house party in the 1980s. Although it features the barest bones of a budding romance between two strangers, McQueen’s focus is in distilling the essence of this social experience in what is arguably an hour-long music video. The title refers to a romantic subgenre of reggae that emerged in Britain but is not well-recognised in its birthplace. Its power is evident: sometimes couples are pressed together, barely moving; at others the entire room sways in a rhythmic trance, the joyfully beating heart of an organism. The camera glides deliberately through the house, slipping behind figures and furniture, providing an intimate perspective rather than that of an outside observer. Whenever we return to the living room, we find ourselves in the middle of the dancefloor. The cold blue lighting outside contrasts with the warmth of the phosphorescent yellow inside, an inviting haven away from the threats of violence that briefly emerge. Lovers Rock is an ambitious idea that is well realised, but I wish it had more content. Instead, following Martha as she sneaks back into bed only to be roused immediately by her mother, it is like waking from a dream — enjoyable yet ephemeral.


Small Axe anthology: Mangrove | Lovers Rock | Red, White and Blue | Alex Wheatle | Education

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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