John Ridley on ‘Guerrilla’s’ ‘Unfortunate’ Present-Day Relevance: ‘It’s Both Timely and Timeless’

John Ridley Freida Pinto Babou Ceesay
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Showtime’s “Guerrilla” is the network’s first venture into the limited series arena. Programming president Gary Levine said their decision to try the format came down to one person: series creator John Ridley.

“Guerrilla” — a love story set against the backdrop of the Black Power movement in 1970s London — stars Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay as Jas and Marcus, a nurse and teacher, respectively, who are drawn into the political movement. Ridley, Pinto, Ceesay, and production designer Paul Cross attended an FYC panel at the WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills on Thursday to talk about what went into the making of the powerful story.

Ridley discussed working on the idea for “Guerrilla” over the past 10 years and noted Cross’ two years of intense research about ‘70s London, “It’s a story I’ve been interested in since I was a kid growing up in the ‘70s. It’s both timely and timeless, when we talk about the immigration act, when we talk about separating people, when we talk about people feeling as though they don’t have a voice, when we talk about police suppression. It is, unfortunately, something that feels very current, but it’s a matter of happenstance. As a storyteller, you want to be current, to talk about things that are urgent. If there’s an opportunity to speak to socio-political issues and show perspectives that aren’t readily represented, if I have that opportunity, I consider that a blessing.”

The theme of action and consequence is central to the story. Ridley explained, “The iconography of struggle, of resistance, of movements for equality, they were just very potent to me. But as I got older, you start to learn about consequence: the consequences of our action, of our inaction, how we see each other or when we can’t see ourselves in other people, and that was a story that was very interesting to me over time. The complications of the characters, the relationships, in some regards, it’s a story as old as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with two people who are so in love with each other that even if the rest of the world can’t see it, they’re there for each other.”

The panel also addressed what happened at the show’s London premiere last week when Ridley was confronted by a question about why the lead female of the series (Pinto) is not African-American when the story is about the Black Power Movement. Ridley pointed out, “London in the ‘70s was such a multi-cultural society. I assumed others were aware of it. I’ll never shy away from representing other people.”

Pinto added that she took the moment “as the start of someone else’s education. I need to value their opinion, even if it’s different from mine. Not being tolerant is completely the opposite of what the show is about.”

“Guerrilla” premieres on Showtime this Sunday at 9 p.m.