The forthcoming TV series Guerrilla, written in large part and directed by Oscar-winner John Ridley and starring Freida Pinto, Babou Ceesay, Idris Elba, Zawe Ashton, Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays and Wunmi Mosaku among others, premieres on Sky Atlantic this week.
The series is a fictionalised recreation of the British Black Power movement of the early seventies, a vital but historically neglected contribution to the shape, growth and democratic development of today's multi-ethnic British society.
Having been a member of the Central Core (a sort of collective leadership or politburo) of the British Black Panther Movement of the late '60s and '70s, I was asked by the producers of the series and John Ridley to act as one of the consultants and script editors.
In the late sixties I joined the Movement that had been founded by black and Asian activists a few months before I became a candidate member. The founders adopted the name in homage to the Black Panther Party of the USA, a good recruiting strategy at the time and dedicated the Movement (deliberately not calling it a 'Party') to fight for social and political equality for the steadily increasing and severely discriminated-against population of ex-colonial immigrants in this country.
By the time I joined the Movement and was fairly speedily invited into its Central Core, there were black women in the leadership of it, notably Althea Jones, a PhD student from Trinidad. But there were also significant Asian members. 'Black' was a political colour and didn't stand for the pigmentation of skin. One of the most prominent and active members of the Movement, recruited to the Central Core was the late Mala Sen.
The Black Panther Movement was of course not the only grouping dedicated to these aims and strategies of the elimination of racism and to democratic or revolutionary political development. There were a myriad of other groups including the Southall Black Sisters, predominantly Asian women activists, Bradford Black, an associate of the Black Panther Movement which was multi-racial in that its membership was black and Asian, the Black Unity and Freedom Party and several other groups throughout Britain.
It wasn't that these members of radical, revolutionary groups were not aware of the mutually antagonistic and racist attitudes of sections of the black and Asian populations towards each other - of course we were conscious that these attitudes and prejudices needed to be obliterated and our joint determination was to do it under the banner of 'blackness'.
Guerrilla may be the first series to boldly take on the depiction of this dynamic in the history of Britain. The series uniquely depicts the drama and tensions of the movements which succeeded in the rapid evolution of Britain, not conclusively but significantly, for the better.
The writers evidently set out to dramatise reality not to recreate it. Ridley and his co-writer Misan Sagay seized on the tendencies present in the historical movement but created a narrative.
There was, for instance, a limited advocacy within the Black Panther Movement for acts of terror. It never became part of the Movement's strategy but there were certainly impatient or hot-headed members who were inclined to admire and wanted to adopt the tactics of the IRA, Germany's Baader-Meinhoff group or the UK's Angry Brigade.
This is realised in Guerrilla when the lead couple Jas (Freida Pinto) and Marcus (Babou Ceesay) choose to take up arms. Meanwhile the political standpoint is represented by the forthright Omega (Zawe Ashton), a strong black female leader who encourages Kent (Idris Elba), a liberal intellectual, to counter the violence.
The events in a fictionalised TV drama need to be plausible and representative but they shouldn't seek to try and represent all. If there wasn't a leading Asian protagonist in the series I might have asked 'why not?' As it happens, there is no leading Asian male in the series, but I and the other Asian men in the Movement, a few of them such as Sunit Chopra and Vivan Sundaram, don't feel air-brushed.
As a writer myself I know that too many characters confuse the plot. In telling stories the main consideration is not ticking boxes on ethnicity and gender.
The characters in the series are endowed with very many of the virtues, vices, animus and ambitions of all of us - black or Asian, men or women who were activists at the time.
I can assure the potential audiences of Guerrilla that in the determinations, action and dialogues of the characters, there are traces and full representations of the stances taken by Olive Morris, Althea Jones and other black women who are a proud part of that history.Suggest a correction