John Ridley’s upcoming Showtime series, Guerrilla, starring Idris Elba, Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay, is supposed to be about black women during Britain’s black power movement who attempt to free a political prisoner. But at the center of the story is a character played by Pinto, a woman who is not black.
During a recent Q&A and screening of the series in London, Ridley and the cast didn’t exactly explain themselves very well when it came to the erasure of black women, according to Shadow and Act.
“My parents were a part of that movement,” one audience member said. “I want to understand why you decided [to make] an Asian woman the main protagonist.
“I understand the contribution of Asians to this, but having an Asian protagonist making all the big decisions. Does that get explained in subsequent episodes? We can’t ignore that,” she continued.
Ridley responded that if “everyone understood racism, there would be no reason for the series.”
“If there are things that are difficult to understand, accept, rationalize, despite the fact that if you understand the struggles of that time period ... those elements are not made up, those are real,” Ridley continued.
But that answer wasn’t good enough for one audience member.
“I’m not sure you quite answered the question. Why are there no black women at the forefront of the struggle? That doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect what happened in the ’70s in the U.K.,” she stated.
“Wow, really? You know this because you read about it?” Ceesay asked.
“No, we know this because our parents were a part of it,” she responded.
And even if the audience member had read about it, it’s not as if it’s not easy to figure out who was involved in the movement—because of the internet and books.
“I said previously, I think the characters in this story are complicated across the board, so the concept that any one person is somehow better, or more elevated, or more appropriate than any other individual, I’m sorry, I don’t accept that,” Ridley said while on the verge of crying.
“I don’t want to make this overly personal, but part of why I chose to have a mixed-race couple at the center of this is that I’m in a mixed-race relationship,” he continued. “The things that are being said here, and how we are often received, is very equivalent to what’s going on right now. My wife is a fighter, my wife is an activist, and yet, because our races are different, there are a lot of things we have to still put up with.”
Ridley concluded: “This is one of the proudest moments of my entire life. This cast, this crew, the people involved in this show are the most reflective cast and crew that you will find anywhere. I’m sorry I cannot entertain a dialogue about whether the lead character in this show should be black or Asian—the lead character in this show should be a strong woman of color.”
During the premiere of the film, Pinto went on to speak about why she got involved with the film and how it transcends race.
“What I understood after speaking to John was that black was not just the color of the skin. It was political blackness, the oppressors and the oppressed, they were from former colonies and India was one of them. When we talk about diversity, not just here but in America, I find it noninclusive when we don’t talk about the other people from other parts of the world, including the Asian population,” she said.
Maybe someone else should make a movie about Olive Morris (British Black Panthers), Stella Dadzie (Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent) and activist Claudia Jones? The real women at the forefront of the black revolutionary movement in Britain, and not a made-up character who was included just because the director’s wife is Asian.
Guerrilla will premiere on Showtime on Sunday, April 16, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.