It’s no secret that black women are often left out of how history is retold. To be fair, work is slowly but surely being done to try and better retell the stories of the women who would otherwise go largely unrecognised in the world of film and television. That said, one of the on-screen adaptations of a really significant period that many had hoped would better reflect black women in history is Guerrilla. But on first look, it doesn’t seem to have done so yet.
Guerrilla is a new mini-series (it’s just six episodes long) from Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave director, John Ridley and both stars and is produced by Idris Elba. In a nutshell, the show revolves around an activist couple in 1970s London, which was a huge turning point for the British Black Panther Movement. It’s a movement that black women were very much at the forefront of.
The lead female role was given to Freida Pinto. Many find it to be a problematic move not because of her capability, she’s a fantastic actress, but rather because of this sense of ‘black erasure’, which in this case basically means excluding key black figures (women) from a history that they helped to write.
The issue was brought up with the director at the screening of the first episode of the series. During a panel discussion, Ridley was asked about the lack of representation for black women in the episode that had been screened, reports the Independent. It’s an important question to ask because, although the show has of course already been shot and isn't directly intended to be a biopic specifically about the black women who seem to be missing from the narrative, the issue of representation is one that is deeply ingrained in the black British female experience. And it's an issue that seems to continually be left out of our (little) understanding of Black British history (because arguably most of our initial thoughts whenever Black Power or the Black Panters comes up in conversation, shoot straight over to America).
Ridley said in response: '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.
'My wife was meant to be here this evening, and she couldn't make it. This is one of the proudest moments of my entire life. This cast, this crew, the people who are involved in the show, are the most reflective cast or crew that you'll find anywhere. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her and I'm sorry, I can not pertain a dialogue on should the lead character have been black or Asian. The lead character for this show, should be a strong woman of colour', he said.
'As a man, I can not say that somehow I've written an appropriate representation of women period, whether they're black or white, American whether they're from the UK', Ridley added. 'But what I can say is that we provided a space for complicated individuals across the board.'
It's tricky because I honestly can't name a film, tv show or otherwise that has entirely got it right, but what's frustrating is that here we're discussing a specific period of history that black women played a big part of and aren't yet depicted as doing so. And that's not to say any other minority didn't have their fight that deserves to be recounted with just as much recognition, but I would go so far as to say that not casting a black female lead for this sort of story will have been a big blow to many of us young black British women waiting for the stories of those who came before us to be told.
So, in the spirit of education, here are a few names of the black British females we all need to know more about. Olive Morris founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group. Beverley Bryan was one of the last Black Panther recruits in the UK and was also a founding member of the Brixton Black Women’s group. Dr Althea Jones-Lecointe is a former British Black Panther and led the Panthers through the particularly significant period of the UK movement. Leila Hassan was a member of the Black Unity and Freedom Party. We can only hope that we’re not waiting much longer for shows that do justice to their contributions hit our screens.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.