The London premiere of writer John Ridley’s new miniseries “Guerilla” grew tense after audience members questioned why he chose a South Asian woman to be the protagonist.
“Guerilla” is set in the 1970s and tells the story of a mixed-race couple who joins an underground anti-racist cell that’s intent on freeing a political prisoner, played by Idris Elba. Loosely based on the U.K.’s anti-racist movement of the ‘70s, the show stars Indian actress Freida Pinto, opposite a love interest played by black British actor Babou Ceesay.
During a Q&A after the show’s premiere in London on Thursday, several audience members sparked a debate about Pinto’s character being at the center of the story. According to Screen Daily, one audience member asked Ridley:
“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.”
Ceesay, also present at the Q&A, responded with: “Wow, really? You know because you were there?”
To which the audience member replied, “No, we know this because our parents were a part of it.”
Another audience member described the series as “the erasure of black women” in the anti-racism movement.
Ridley, who won an Oscar for writing “12 Years A Slave,” pushed back against the criticism. He argued that if “everybody understood racism, oppression ... there would be no reason to be doing this show.”
Visibly emotional and holding back tears, Ridley explained that the reasoning behind casting Pinto as the lead had to do with the fact that he is married to an Asian woman.
“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,” the writer and show runner said.
“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.”
Zawe Ashton and Wunmi Mosaku, two black British actresses, are among the cast of “Guerilla,” though it remains to be seen how central their roles are.
“Guerilla” premieres on Showtime on April 16.