By Alyssia Birjalal
Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe”, has been one of the most anticipated productions of the past year.
The five-part anthology film series, that tells the personal stories from London’s West Indian community, in five different films.
The first film released was “Mangrove”, Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a Trinidadian physician and research scientist also known for her role as a leader of the British Black Panther Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
The second will be “Lovers Rock” with Roots star, Malachi Kirby as the lead character, Darcus Howe; “Star Wars” star, John Boyega leads the cast of “Red, White and Blue”, while the fourth film, “Alex Wheatle” is lead by Sheyi Cole.
The anthology ends with “Education”, a coming of age drama with Kenyah Sandy in the lead.
These stories, set between the late 1960s to mid-1980s, have shaped their own force of will despite rampant racism and discrimination.
It’s a topic that John Boyega who stars as Leroy Logan, in the third film, “Red, White and Blue”, a former superintendent, is well versed in.
The actor was one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter protests in London a few months ago, where he broke down because of how the world seems to be ignoring the racism and discrimination that is still happening today.
In the film, Logan enters the police force as a forensic scientist after seeing his father assaulted by two policemen.
He naively believes that as a black man, he can change the racist institution from within – a notion that unsurprisingly leads to a painful family confrontation. Regardless, Logan continues into the force, where we follow his experiences of racism, his futile attempts to tackle it, and his eventual use as a prop for diversity hiring.
“We follow him on this story of self-discovery in an environment that isn’t used to him, isn’t used to his kind or culture.
“We see the way Leroy decides to navigate that and the way it affects his family. It’s a story that has essentially a father and son relationship and bond in the center of it during a really troubling time in terms of race relations,” said Boyega.
Boyega didn’t know much about his character before shooting the series.
“When I first met him and started talking, I was with a friend at the time and she said she had met him before, he was her mentor and I’d been around the same circles but for some reason, our paths didn’t cross. I didn’t know much about his intricate story especially in the way this script explores it,” he said.
Boyega used his conversations with Leroy to ultimately shape the character he was about to play.
“It was really about decision making.
“You have to understand that this is a Black man who decided to join the same institution who assaulted his father, so I wanted to understand the man behind that decision.
“The man who was strong enough to swallow the conflicts and give us representation at the police force.
“Understanding his intention really informed me about making sure the portrayal was accurate,” Boyega said.
He said his days on set were such a vibe and McQueen made sure to capture that on screen.
“We were just doing the most, you know how it is when everyone links up, it’s a vibe. Steve (McQueen) captured a lot of those natural moments which was very important,” he said.
“I’m inspired by black British people fighting for our stories to be told and I think that’s the synergy of energies, it’s a beautiful thing where someone feels as passionate about something and you haven’t even met them yet, for the conversation.
“The collaboration was great and enjoyable. I was also able to make good connections and hear about things happening behind the scenes of “Small Axe” more than anything I’ve ever worked on before, especially and especially about black British talent”, said Boyega.
The remaining two films in the series are “Alex Wheatle” and “Education”.
Catch John Boyega as Leroy Logan on “Red, White and Blue” on BBC Brit on Monday, November 30 at 8pm.