Amid Black Erasure Controversy, ‘Guerrilla’ Premieres to Poor Numbers

By Sameer Rao Apr 21, 2017

"Guerrilla," Showtime’s new limited series about Black British political activism in the 1970s, received criticism ahead of its Sunday (April 16) premiere for its lack of Black women in lead roles. As Shadow and Act reported yesterday (April 20), that controversy may have affected viewership.

According to the Black film-centered publication, only 182,000 viewers tuned into the first of six episodes. From Shadow and Act:

To put the number into some perspective by comparing it to other current Showtime network series, "Homeland" averages over 1 million viewers per episode; "Ray Donovan" is solidly averaging over 1 million as well; "Billions" is averaging around 900,000 viewers per episode; and "Shameless" is averaging around 1.5 million viewers per episode.

And comparing it to another premium cable TV network’s numbers, HBO’s "The Leftovers" averages around 900,000 viewers; "Veep" draws around 1 million per episode; even Issa Rae‘s half-hour freshman comedy series "Insecure" drew over 410,000 live TV viewers per episode. 

And over at competing Starz network, "Power" drew close to 2 million viewers per episode, with over 900,000 for "Survivor’s Remorse" during their most recent seasons.

Co-produced by series director John Ridley ("American Crime") and lead actor Idris Elba ("Star Trek Beyond"), "Guerrilla" stars Black British actor Babou Ceesay ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") and Indian actress Freida Pinto ("Blunt Force Trauma") as Marcus and Jas, an interracial couple developing a resistance movement in 1970s London. Their portrayal seemingly refers to the historic reality of African- and South Asian-descended Britons being called "Black" and organizing anti-racist actions together. Although it features performances from Black actresses including Zawe Ashton ("Nocturnal Animals") and Wunmi Mosaku ("Philomena"), Pinto is the only woman with top billing. Screen Daily reported after an April 6 London screening that this casting prompted Black audience members to ask Ridley about the lack of Black woman leads. Ridley defended the series by referring to his own interracial relationship:

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. 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. …This is one of the proudest moments of my entire life. This cast, this crew, the people involved in this show are the most reflective cast and crew that you will find anywhere. I’m sorry I cannot entertain a dialogue about whether the lead character in this show should be Black or Asian—the lead character in this show should be a strong woman of color. 

An Ebony report on the controversy names several of the Black women involved in and researching the movement, with links to some of their work:

Where are the Olive Morrises of the movement? What happened to portrayals of Beverley Brown and Janet Davis, who founded Black Power organizations and joined the Black Panthers? Why not include the intellectual contributions of Black women scholars such as Jacqueline Nassy BrownTanisha Ford and Kennetta Perry, who study Black British activism during this period? Even recent articles in The Guardian highlight the contributions of only Black men and Indian British activists in the Black Power movement, while forgetting Black women leaders like Althea Jones Lecointe and Barbara Beese.