Power and change: Freida Pinto, Babou Ceesay headline stellar new miniseries

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Cassie Dresch / TV Media
Freida Pinto stars in "Guerrilla"

Freida Pinto stars in "Guerrilla"

It's already being hailed as an Emmy heavyweight, and it's not hard to see why. "Guerrilla" shines a light on a revolutionary time in the United Kingdom's history, when the British Black Panthers were a driving force in the pursuit of racial equality, and does so with a strong cast and an acclaimed writer and director. A new episode of "Guerrilla," the six-episode miniseries from Academy Award winner John Ridley ("12 Years a Slave," 2013), airs Sunday, May 7, on Showtime.

Based loosely on true events, the series is set in 1970s London, England, and follows Jas (Freida Pinto, "Slumdog Millionaire," 2008) and Marcus (Babou Ceesay, "A.D. The Bible Continues"), young lovers with strong political opinions, but no follow-through on their ideals. That changed in the first episode of "Guerrilla," when a friend was killed by police, and the pair became active revolutionaries.

"I've never been able to play somebody like this -- I've never been given the chance," Pinto said of her character at a press stop last month. "This is the kind of role that actors live for. You can play characters that are good, but don't always show your range. I've always known that if you give me the chance, I'll show you what I can do. I am so blessed that John saw in me the passion and the drive I have."

"I connect with [Jas], I felt protected by her," she added. "Jas has her passion in the right place, as well as this hunger to put everything that is within her out in the world. But she lacks strategy and direction. I come from a very authentic but not harmful place, but I am also driven by extreme passion."

Pinto has been lauded for her performance thus far, with the likes of Deadline's Dominic Patten calling her "excellent" and the Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman saying she's "convincingly fierce as she becomes more radicalised, but her evolution is believable at every turn, less superhero than determined activist." As the conclusion of the miniseries nears, she just continues to get better and better.

This isn't lost on Ridley, whose writing has also received heaps of praise. The "American Crime" creator also had plenty of wonderful things to say about the actress in a phone interview with Greg Braxton in April.

"In addition to being a very talented person, Freida is also very passionate," he said. "I knew she had spent time working with activist causes and working with underprivileged children all over the world. She had a way of speaking with passion, but without anger. She's a great actress and a great partner. ... 'Slumdog Millionaire' was a phenomenal first film, and it was a role based on her emotion and her God-given good looks. For actors of color, particularly female actors of color, it can be hard to move on to the next thing. I was lucky to have a very solid role [for her], and she was available."

Babou Ceesay as seen in "Guerrilla"

Babou Ceesay as seen in "Guerrilla"

Pinto's casting in the lead female role hasn't been without its detractors, however, with some saying "Guerrilla" doesn't feature enough black women as headlining characters. Ridley, for his part, has remained steadfast in his choice to include her.

"Part of what we are saying is that a white person walking down the street at this time would look at [Jas and Marcus] and say, 'Oh, those blacks,'" he said in an interview with the Observer. "To the outside world, they're both black, but the reality is that they are a mixed-race couple. Their love and commitment is a big part of the show because they have to fight for that. They're down for each other. There are people who will have a problem with that, and I hope that they do because that problem is also part of the story we're telling."

Even Farrukh Dhondy, an Indian-born member of the British Black Panthers who was at "The Frontline" in the '70s, offered a comment on the alleged "black erasure" by Ridley. "I don't understand because we are not the BBC, we don't need to tick boxes," he told the Radio Times. "Ticking boxes on gender and race is not what John Ridley set out to do. He set out to capture a piece of history, and it is completely legitimate that an Asian woman would be involved. I was a leading male, I was a member of the central core, there were other Asians in the central core."

At the end of the day, Ridley achieved what he set out to do, something he's become known for: starting a conversation. He did so with "12 Years a Slave," he's continued to do so with ABC's "American Crime" and now he's done so with "Guerrilla."

"I think it's a solid piece of storytelling, and I hope it will mark the beginning of a cycle of these kinds of stories of people of color and their experiences, whether documentaries or fictional narratives," Ridley told the Observer. "This isn't just black history -- it's British history, and it needs to be told."

Catch a new episode of "Guerrilla," airing Sunday, May 7, on  on Showtime.