*A funny thing happened during a recent Q&A panel with director John Ridley and the cast of his latest project, “Guerrilla.” The award-winning writer/director (“American Crime,” “12 Years A Slave”) became emotional when asked why he omitted black women from his narrative about the British Black Power Movement of the 1970s.
At the center of the story is a black male lead and an Indian female lead. Frieda Pinto plays the female lead and Babou Ceesay the male lead. Idris Elba both co-stars and serves as an executive producer via his Green Door Pictures. The film is an interracial love love story set against the backdrop of one of the most politically explosive times in UK history.
Ridley is hoping to sell his vision to a black audience, but even after black folks voiced their concerns last year when the cast was announced, both he and Ceesay seemed to be offended and surprised when asked by members of the press why there are no black women in prominent roles in the series.
According to Screen Daily, after a premiere screening of “Guerrilla” in London this week, Ridley was asked repeatedly to defend his decision to have the leading female character be an Indian woman instead of a black British woman.
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It’s worth nothing that this writer has not seem the series, so below is a summary via Screen Daily of what went down during the Q&A following the premiere screening:
One questioner addressed Ridley directly with her concerns: “My parents were a part of that movement [black power]. I want to understand why you decided [to make] an Asian woman the main protagonist.”
The audience member noted that the only prominent black female character in episode one is an informer against the movement for a racist, white police officer.
“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 to the question with: “To me, everything that you’re saying is exactly why that decision is so important. The fact that it’s difficult to accept someone, even though they are of colour, of being with us…”
“I don’t find it difficult to accept, I’m just trying to understand,” interrupted the questioner.
“If everybody understood racism, oppression… there would be no reason to be doing this show. We would be doing Dancing With The Stars,” he joked.
“If there are things that are difficult to understand, accept, rationalise, despite the fact that if you understand the struggles of that time period… those elements are not made up, those are real,” Ridley continued.
“If there are any aspects of my show that are difficult to understand or accept, I feel I have done my job,” he added, drawing applause from the audience, “It is an incredibly valid question, but please accept that my answer is equally as valid.”
“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 UK,” [another audience member asked].
Ceesay was taken aback by the suggestion: “Wow, really? You know this because you read about it?”
“No, we know this because our parents were a part of it,” responded the second questioner.
One audience member loudly described it as “the erasure of black women.”
“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,” said Ridley.
He becomes emotional as reveals that it was a personal decision not to give black women a voice in his version of the black struggle in London during the 70’s.
“I don’t want to make this overly personal, but part of why I chose to have a mixed race couple at the centre of this is that I’m in a mixed race relationship. The things that are being said here, and how we are often received, is very equivalent to what’s going on right now [in the wider world]. My wife is a fighter, my wife is an activist, and yet because our races our different there are a lot of things we have to still put up with.” he said, visibly holding back tears.
We get it, Ridley… you don’t date black women, so therefore you can’t relate to our voice in the movement. Our struggle doesn’t resonate with you quite like that of an Asian woman, or any non-black woman willing to risk life or limb for the black man’s penis. She is the true hero of the urban struggle.
“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 colour,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, you have to understand that for many black men, they can not excel in Hollywood unless they disparage and disrespect or omit black women from the narrative and conversation all together. #WeSeeYouJohnRidley
When Ridley’s US marketing efforts kick off, he’ll be once again forced to answer the question: “Where are the black women?”
In the meantime, Showtime has released teaser and a behind the scenes featurette about the significance of the series, see clips below.
“Guerrilla” will premiere on Showtime (U.S.) on Sunday, April 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.