There are lots of reasons to be excited about a new period miniseries starring Idris Elba, though a history lesson may not be high on your list. But reconsider that position, because Showtime's Guerrilla premieres April 16 and chronicles an important and overlooked era in recent history. It follows a couple who work to free a political prisoner during the rise of the Black Power movement in Britain. But how historically accurate is Guerrilla? The central characters of the series are fictional creations, but Guerrilla's creator John Ridley did research into the real Black Power and Liberation movements of '70s.
Representing this history should be considered an overall win, since it's not often depicted on TV. According to the University of Cambridge, the Black Power movement in Britain has been ignored in order to perpetuate "a more palatable version of British history" that "presents Britain as a place of civilization and fairness."
John Ridley consulted with real Black Power leader Darcus Howe for the series according to The Hollywood Reporter. Howe even has a cameo appearance in one episode of the series. When he died on April 2 of this year, he was mourned as an activist and journalist. According to his obituary in The Guardian, Howe was born in Trinidad but became a centerpiece of the Black Panther movement in the UK. He became well known as a member of the "Mangrove Nine," individuals who were arrested for protesting constant police raids of a Caribbean restaurant in London in 1970. Ridley told The Hollywood Reporter that "it was very special" to have Howe work on the series.
However, Guerrilla has courted some criticism regarding the female characters featured on the show and the actors who play them. At a screening and Q&A in London, an audience member asked Ridley why there are no black women leads in the cast of a miniseries about a major black social movement. Freida Pinto, who plays fictional activist Jas Mitra, is Indian. You can see some of the exchange in a Twitter video from the night below.
According to the same The Hollywood Reporter article, Ridley responded to the criticism by stating that Black Liberation was a movement that included all people of color in Britain, thus rationalizing Jas's role. Still, the absence of a black female lead means that the series is unable to spend much time recognizing the role that black women played. Whatever the response, Ridley appears to appreciate that his series is prompting discussion. "It’s not about agreement," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s about allowing people in some way to have some thing that they can talk about, whether they agree or disagree."
Like any piece of historical fiction, Guerrilla is limited in the amount of story it can tell. Its depiction of the Black Power movement may not be comprehensive, but it is showing a rare side of history that deserves more time in the spotlight.