A London screening of the new Idris Elba mini-series titled “Guerilla,” about the British wing of the militant Black Panthers group, saw heated controversy when Black activists questioned why Freida Pinto, an Indian actor, was chosen as protagonist.
Pinto plays a character named Jas who leads a radical underground cell in response to police brutality. Elba, who produced the series, plays an associate of the socialist Black liberation group, while John Ridley, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, 12 Years A Slave, served as writer and director.
The plot revolves around Pinto’s Jas character and her romance with Marcus, played by Babou Ceesay, and their exposure of a counterintelligence unit set up to monitor and infiltrate civil rights activism in the early 1970s.
Black journalists and members of the Black Lives Matter UK movement who attended the screening grilled Ridley, questioning why the protagonist was not a Black woman. One activist argued that his pick erased Blackness.
Ridley defended his decision, telling the crowd it was based on historical research and was intended to reflect the diversity of the British Black Panther movement.
“Those elements are real. The lead character in this show should be a strong woman of color,” he told them, as reported by INews.
“I’m in a mixed-race relationship and my wife is a fighter and activist. This is what we still have to put up with.”
Pinto also defended her role, telling reporters, “Black was not just the color of your skin, it was a political blackness at that point in time.”
The comments and the decision spurred anger from social media users as well, many who pointed out the recurring way non-Black people of color also coopt Black struggles and narratives.
Freida Pinto erasing black women with "it's not about skin but political blackness" is EXACTLY why this #Guerrilla movie sucks. ������— M. Hyacinth Gaynair (@blkatlanticCDN) April 7, 2017
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified "Guerrilla" as a film. It is a TV mini-series. Originally published April 9, 2017, updated April 10, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.