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 attempted to engage with the question: “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.
Ridley responded: “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.”Needless to say, his answer wasn't accepted as valid, and others jumped in and pressed Ridley further.
"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].
Babou Ceesay, who plays one of the male leads in the show alongside Idris Elba, 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.
With audience members now having vocal disagreements amongst themselves - with one loudly describing it as “the erasure of black women” - Ridley launched an impassioned defense of his project: “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 said, visibly holding back tears.
“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.The heated Q&A certainly didn't end there, but you get the gist of it. I should note that cast members Idris Elba (also executive producer), Freida Pinto, Babou Ceesay and Rory Kinnear were in attendance; per the above report, Ceesay chimed in once, but it doesn't appear that Elba or Pinto said anything. [caption id="attachment_293644" align="aligncenter" width="2500"] Zawe Ashton in "Guerrilla"[/caption] With regards to the mention of the only prominent black female character in episode one being an informer against the movement, the actress who likely plays the role is Zawe Ashton (photo from the series above), given that she's the only black actress we've seen in any of the press materials for the series, thus far. Although Wunmi Mosaku (another black British actress) is also a member of the cast, so it could very well be her role as well. The series is 6-parts long, and only the first episode was screened per the above report; whether there's more than meets the eye here, that will be eventually unveiled in successive episodes, answering the question about the absence of black women in prominent roles in the series, Ridley gave no clues in his responses during last night's Q&A session. But I suggest he come up with firmer answers before he begins his USA press tour, because the series may actually suffer by under-performing in terms of ratings, since some on this side of the pond (based on reactions from readers of this blog, as well as on social media) have pledged to avoid the series entirely. When we finally get a look at the series, there'll certainly be more to discuss.
UPDATE: Video of the above Q&A has surfaced online that captures some of what is outlined in the Screen Daily report. Watch all 3 videos below which come courtesy of the @MelaninMille Twitter account:
"Guerrilla" will premiere on Showtime (USA) on Sunday, April 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Babou Ceesay and Freida Pinto star in the drama that hails from creator John Ridley ("American Crime," "12 Years a Slave"), with Idris Elba's Green Door Pictures executive producing. The series also stars names of other black British actors you'll be familiar with: Zawe Ashton, Nicholas Pinnock, Wunmi Mosaku, and Nathaniel Martello-White, as well as African American actor Brandon Scott, plus Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays, and Denise Gough round out the key cast. Academy Award winner John Ridley wrote the majority of the series with British writer Misan Sagay writing episode five; Ridley also directs half of the series together with British director Sam Miller. Produced by Endemol Shine International, commissioned for Sky by Head of Drama Anne Mensah and Director of Sky Atlantic Zai Bennett, the series is a co-production between Fifty Fathoms and ABC Signature. Alongside John Ridley through his company International Famous Players Radio Picture Corporation, the executive producers are Idris Elba for Green Door Pictures, Patrick Spence and Katie Swinden for Fifty Fathoms (Fortitude, Marvellous), Tracy Underwood for ABC Signature, and Michael McDonald for Stearns Castle. Showtime has released a behind the scenes featurette in which the cast and creators talk about the series' significance. Underneath it, you'll find a teaser (titled "Three Lives, One Destiny") followed by a couple of clips: