Another week, another episode of SMALL AXE on Amazon. The latest entry, RED, WHITE AND BLUE, tells the true story of a young man who was inspired to join the local police force after his father was beaten by cops because of the color of his skin. As you might expect, this is not an easy road for the man to go down. He not only faces systematic racism within the force, which is to be expected because he joined to try to change the organization from within, but also the disappointment of his father, who mourns his child standing among the ranks of the men who beat him.
SMALL AXE RED, WHITE AND BLUE is a powerful story of two men, Leroy Logan (John Boyega, Star Wars) and his father, Ken (Steve Toussaint, Deep Water). The film starts on Ken, and we can see what a kind-hearted, intelligent, perhaps a bit naïve, but all-around good man that Ken is. As the focus shifts to Leroy, we see someone who is a bit more assertive, and perhaps it is his father’s influence that made him that way. Not because Ken ever pushed Leroy, but because Ken raised him with appropriate values in a protected environment where Leroy felt he might be able to make a change. It’s not what Ken intended, but it also proves Ken to be a good father.
There’s a bit of a let down for each of the man as this plays out. Ken is sad because Leroy got involved with men that Ken thinks he should stay away from. Leroy is disappointed because the force ends up being a lot more entrenched than he expected. He can only do so much as one man, and seeing other minorities eventually give up, he wants to give up, too. But he can’t because he’s not doing this for himself; others are making sacrifices for him, and he must push on whether he wants to or not.
SMALL AXE RED, WHITE AND BLUE is bittersweet because viewers will know that Leroy is making a difference, even if it’s not as much of one as he’d like to, nor does change come quickly. Yet, there is a spark here, and even if he doesn’t realize it, he’s part of a broader movement. Attitudes and opinions are slow to shift, and that only happens with great effort. Leroy is essentially sacrificing himself, as so many have done, to change things even a little bit. It’s frustrating and it’s humbling to know how little one man can affect that balance. And yet without lots of men like him, things would remain the way they are.
That’s a large burden to place on Leroy’s shoulders, as Ken must realize, but the story of SMALL AXE RED, WHITE AND BLUE is not about sweeping injustices; it’s very much a personal story, embodied best in the final scene of the piece being a quiet moment between father and son. This movie really helps give face and personal impact to what people are going through, and have gone through, in society.
Once again, Steve McQueen has made an excellent film, well-acted, well-produced, and thought-provoking while also bringing the feels. The performances are great, especially from the leads. But even the minor parts are authentic, like the racist cop who can’t help but nervously smirk as he’s being yelled at. It all feels very real, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. But it’s also beautiful art, and that’s only good.
Catch SMALL AXE RED, WHITE AND BLUE, along with the rest of the SMALL AXE series, only on Amazon Prime.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It’s All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.