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John Ridley Pushes Back Against Criticism That Asian Lead Character in Black Power Episode is ‘Erasure of Black Women’

Screenwriter John Ridley married his wife, Gayle, in 1998. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Screenwriter John Ridley says his Japanese wife influenced his decision to cast an Asian woman in the lead role of his Black Power series, a choice that sparked outrage among some viewers.

Ridley, who most famously wrote “12 Years A Slave,” developed “Guerilla,” a six-part series that documents the British Black Power movement. Idris Elba is one of the Black male leads alongside British actor Babou Ceesay. Yet, the first episode of the series focused on an Asian woman played by Indian actress Freida Pinto.

After a screening of the show in London Thursday, April 6, one audience member asked Ridley why an Asian woman was front and center, while the only notable Black female character in the episode is an informant for a racist white cop. The audience member noted that her parents were part of the Black Power movement, Screen Daily reported.

“If everybody understood racism, oppression … there would be no reason to be doing this show. We would be doing ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ” Ridley joked, according to the international film industry website. “If there are things that are difficult to understand, accept, rationalize, despite the fact that if you understand the struggles of that time period … those elements are not made up, those are real.”

The response didn’t quell dissent, though, as someone else asked, “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 person loudly said Ridley’s portrayal is “the erasure of Black women.”

Ridley explained his relationship with a Japanese woman, his wife Gayle Ridley, influenced his casting choice.

“I don’t want to make this overly personal, but part of why I chose to have a mixed race couple at the center of this is that I’m in a mixed-race relationship,” he said before fighting back tears. “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 are different, there are a lot of things we have to still put up with.”

“I’m sorry I cannot entertain a dialogue about whether the lead character in this show should be Black or Asian,” he added. “The lead character in this show should be a strong woman of color.”

Ridley said he expected a debate to emerge over “Guerilla,” which premieres in the UK on Sky Thursday, April 13, and in the U.S. on Showtime Sunday, April 16.

“If you’re dealing with race, if you’re dealing with politics, if you’re dealing with people who have traditionally been considered ‘others,’ there is going to be someone, somewhere who is going to be upset about what you’re doing,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s not about agreement, it’s about allowing people in some way to have something that they can talk about, whether they agree or disagree … start a conversation.”

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