John Ridley, the Oscar Award-winning writer of 12 Years A Slave, has recently been criticized for his new show depicting the British black power movement in the 1970s. The series, Guerilla, stars Freida Pinto as Jas Mitra, an Asian woman who is the main character and drive much of the narrative.
However, as many pointed out, the only prominent black woman in the series is a woman who turns informant for a racist white cop, a detail that many have said is the “erasure of black women” from the history of the movement.
But in response to that criticism, Ridley went on the defensive, saying, ““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.”
“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 added. “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.”
While many still questioned the decision to put an Asian woman at the forefront of the story, Neil Kenlock, who was involved with the British black power movement as a photographer and was at the screening, also defended Ridley’s choice, saying, “I am probably the only person [here] that was in the Black Panthers, and what John [Ridley] did was exactly spot on. We had an Asian woman, and she was extremely active, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what I’ve seen today.”
Pinto herself also addressed the question of her character’s role at the BBC World Service’s Subi Shah.
“What I understood after speaking to John [Ridley] 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,” she said. “When we talk about diversity, not just here but in America, I find it non-inclusive when we don’t talk about the other people from other parts of the world, including the Asian population.”