Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Movie with Abe: Education

Directed by Steve McQueen
Released December 18, 2020 (Amazon Prime)

When the term “systemic racism” is used, it implies a built-in bias to a way of doing things that inherently holds certain people back. When expectations are created based on only a portion of society, it’s understandable that some will not benefit and will in fact be held to an improper standard that only impedes progress. What’s worse is that those who are set up for failure may not even be aware that something else is possible since they have no opportunities to see success except from those for whom it is much easier to achieve it.

Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy) is a twelve-year-old fascinated by space who dreams of growing up to be an astronaut. A slow reader, he is frequently targeted by teachers and pulled out of class until he is told by the headmaster that he has special needs and will be transferred to a special school. He quickly learns that education is far from paramount at the institution, where he and his classmates are often left unattended all day. A visit from Hazel (Naomi Ackie) helps Kingsley to see that all is not right, and she is intent on making members of the West Indian community know that accepting things as they are is not the only course of action.

This film is the fifth in an anthology series called “Small Axe” directed by Steve McQueen, best known for the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” The final installment is an appropriate coda, one that focuses on a young protagonist who has plenty to offer but is continuously held back by those with power who want to tell him what he can and can’t accomplish. Unlike the characters in the previous films, Kingsley doesn’t know what the world offers and therefore fights back only as much as he can, and the poignant journey is the one experienced by his mother (Sharlene Whyte), who gradually comes to see her son for the talents he has rather than his shortcomings.

Like the majority of the films that precede it, “Education” runs just over one hour, pausing frequently to live in the mundanity of the environment in which Kingsley is forced to sit and waste time rather than being actively engaged in any form of learning. That time is an excellent opportunity to get to know him both as an individual character and a representative example of the many people in his situation who were not and, in some cases, continue not to be, treated as equal to anyone else. In its own right and as a conclusion to this series, it’s a strong and affirming spotlight on division, racism, and a fight for change.


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