What does Guerrilla teach us about the fight for racial equality today?

(Guerrilla) ‘In the first episode, a political prisoner informs the radical couple fighting to free him that there is a black power desk in the Metropolitan police’s special branch.’ Photograph: Sky

 

As someone involved in the black movement in the 1970s I was intrigued to see how those times would be depicted in this series. I was aware that there has been some controversy around an Asian woman being cast as one of the main protagonists.

For those of us who were around at the time, the role of Jas Mitra (played by Freida Pinto), is quite obviously in recognition of Mala Sen, who was part of the leadership of the Black Panther movement and a member of the Race Today Collective alongside the late Darcus Howe and Farrukh Dhondy, who acted as consultants for the series. For me it was an absolute pleasure to have Mala’s contribution acknowledged through the role of Jas, and I am interested to see how her character unfolds, if nothing else.

Aside from Jas, the portrayal of black women in the first episode was unforgivable, as they are represented solely by Wunmi Mosaku’s character Kenya, a sex worker whose clients include the police inspector Pence. Historically women were the backbone of the black movement: Althea Jones-Lecointe, Barbara Beese, Leila Hassan, Olive Morris, Beverley Bryan and Stella Dadzie, to name but a few, and I can only hope this is reflected in future episodes.

What can activists today take from the series? Not much, I fear. After the first episode, I felt the story was becoming reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde. But it is, after all, fiction. The real-life events and achievements of people such as Howe, Dhondy and their contemporaries are where the lessons actually lie.

The words at the beginning of the first episode are well worth remembering: “Do not seek the white man’s approval.”

Those of my generation didn’t – and neither should you.

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