“Guerrilla” creator John Ridley comments on race controversy

LOS ANGELES -- John Ridley said he expected his “politically sharp” TV miniseries “Guerrilla,” about England’s 1970s black power movement, to be provocative.

But criticism that the drama excludes the role played by black female activists took him by surprise at a screening in London, he said Monday.

He pointed to his track record of writing for black actresses in projects including TV’s “American Crime” -- which earned Regina King two Emmys -- and “12 Years a Slave,” for which Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar.

Given that, he said, it was odd to hear that people “feel as though I’m not putting enough women of color in spaces.”

“I would say very sincerely to anybody, if they find fault with what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, you don’t need to wait for me to tell your stories,” Ridley said. “You don’t need anybody’s permission to go out and tell the story you want to tell.”

At last week’s screening, Ridley was questioned by some audience members about the project’s approach. “Guerrilla,” debuting April 16 on Showtime, stars Indian actress Freida Pinto and black British actor Babou Ceesay as an activist couple.

One questioner said the writers were responsible for the “erasure” of black women from the story. Ridley grew emotional while trying to explain his decisions to the audience, at one point invoking his own interracial marriage. 

But Ridley spoke calmly and carefully as he addressed the issue from the distance of several days.

The reaction to Pinto’s Jas and Ceesay’s Marcus “is actually part of the story we’re telling,” he said. “It’s as old as ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘West Side Story’ ... nobody can see their love the way they do.”

The African-American writer, director and producer stands by the authenticity of “Guerrilla,” which he said involved a “learning tour” to meet participants and observers of the British civil rights struggle.

Because “a lot of these stories have not been taught, have not been told,” it may frustrate those who want a single project to make up the lost ground, said Ridley, who won an Oscar in 2014 for his adapted screenplay of “12 Years a Slave.”

“I’m all for people looking at anybody’s story and saying, ‘Hey, that’s only part of the picture. I want to go out and tell more and do more and say more,’ “ Ridley said.