“12 Years a Slave” Writer Accused of”Erasing” Black Women From His New Showtime Series
by TRN Staff Writer,
Director John Ridley’s decision to in effect “erase” a key female Black actress from a movie about the Black revolution of 60s and 70s may prove to not be one of his best decisions. Essence.com says the director is getting a lot of push back from viewers who took part in a special screening of the series. Many were upset that the movie does not feature a Black actress in any lead roles.
The six-part series stars Idris Elba as a London activist on a mission to free a political prisoner in 1970. Starring with Elba are Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay. At the special screening in London, one question kept coming to the forefront–“Where are the Black women revolutionaries...?” As the director tried to evade a direct answer, the crowd became more persistent in getting a real answer from Ridley. At one point, Ridley tried to deflect by saying, “If everybody understood racism, oppression… there would be no reason to be doing this show. We would be doing Dancing With The Stars.”
Another audience member again stayed with the question saying, “I’m not sure you quite answered the question – 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,”. Audience members said what the series shows on screen doesn’t line up with people who actually lived through the experience have told them—like their parents.
Finally, Ridley answers, “ I don’t want to make this overly personal, but 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.” But that is the very definition of an “overly personal” reason because Ridley wanted the screen’s mixed relationship between lead actors to reflect his personal mixed relationship. Things got even more personal as Ridley continued saying, “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 our different there are a lot of things we have to still put up with.” At this point Ridley is said to be holding back tears.
Ridley’s decision to prominently feature a mixed couple in a love relationship is his choice as a director, but it doesn’t address his decision to leave Black women totally unrepresented from a cause that many were an integral part of. To represent the historical time — as one audience member phrased it– with “the erasure of Black women” causes the story to suffer in its impact because it opts to feature an actress of Asian descent as more important to the story than Black women who were living it. There is a Black actress in series, but she does not play an activist nor does she play a key protagonist role.
Ridley sounds like he’s endured some racism because of his mixed relationship and perhaps that would have been better expressed in a movie about mixed relationships. He could have written the screenplay for “12 Years a Slave” as a movie about mixed relationships, but it’s doubtful it would have earned nearly $200 million at the box office or brought home three Oscars. Ridley’s screenplay stayed true to the period and topic he was writing about…and that seems to be all people are expecting of his latest project. It’s hard to have a series about Black political radicals without casting both Black men and Black women in key roles. Ridley’s limited event series “Guerrilla” premieres on Showtime April 16.