12 Years a Slave producer under fire over new show Guerrilla

John Ridley says he set out to portray the complexities of the situation. “This story is complicated, it is going to cause consternation, and hurt and conversations. That’s why we as artists do this, so that you can have these conversations and try to deal with it, as best we all can.”

Guerrilla airs on Sky Atlantic on April 13 Later in the series, we find that one of the policemen on the Black Power Desk (for that existed) is subject to racism because of his Irish background. The new project comes from John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and the cast includes The Wire and Luther star Idris Elba as black activist Kent. “My wife is a fighter. Racism towards Irish people is also portrayed; within the first few minutes, Denise Gough is called an “Irish c**t” and assaulted by the police. “Black was not just colour of the skin, it was political blackness: the oppressors and the oppressed, who were all from the colonies like India,” she said. “This is TV: this is easy. “When we talk about diversity, I find it not-inclusive when we don’t talk about people from other parts of the world that contribute. But if we are having trouble dealing with a TV show, think about dealing with real life. When asked about this issue, Mumbai-born Pinto defended the choice, saying that it was accurate to have minorities united against the National Front. Post-premiere Q&A sessions are usually a safe place for actors, featuring softball questions on character exploration and the director’s vision. “If everyone understood racism, oppression, the consequences, then we should be doing Dancing with the Stars.”

That didn’t fly with the audience and Ridley was again pushed to defend the show’s choices. My wife is an activist, and yet because our races are different, this is a lot of the things we have to put up with. That is by design. But the character that drew the most interest was Jas Mithra, an Indian woman in a mixed-race relationship who instigates the Black Power extremism that centres the six-part series. The show’s producers say that the inclusion of Omega (Zawe Ashton) ups the level of empowered black women later in the series. “This is one of the proudest moments in my entire life. “It was not an easy process to create it, it was not an easy process to put it together, and clearly it will not be an easy process to digest it. “If there are any aspects of this show or my work that are difficult for you to understand or accept easily, then I feel I have done my job,” he said. Life is hard. And I’m sorry, I cannot entertain a dialogue about should the lead character have been black or Asian. The lead character for this show should be a strong woman of colour.”

There was still some discontent in the room. My wife was meant to be here with me this evening, and she couldn’t make it,” he said before choking up. It is not meant to be taken gently or easily,” Ridley added. But at yesterday’s first screening of Sky Atlantic/Showtime’s new drama Guerrilla, it turned into a tense debate about the (mis)representation of black women in London’s Black Panther movement in the 1970s, with tears on stage and unrest in the audience. She’s played exceptionally by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Trishna), but the screened first episode relegated the role of the only black woman to that of an informant/mistress. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. It illustrates that often when writers, directors and producers tackle one ism, they can appear non-inclusive or superficial unless their work is filtered through other isms first (for example, Lena Dunham and Girls). “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, and the things that are being said here, and how we are often received, is very equivalent to what’s going on. So for me, this was important in the larger conversation about diversity, and not about the diversity that’s reduced to the colour of the skin.”

The racism experienced by other minorities is acknowledged beyond Freida’s inclusion; a protestor in the screened episode is Sikh (it may seem insignificant, but this is the first time this reporter has ever seen a Sikh extra in a glossy drama). And that’s when it got emotional.