Decades of Hollywood movies to the contrary, the United States did not have a monopoly on protest movements in the '60s and '70s. Social revolutions occur all over the world, sometimes leading to civil unrest, and they happen in the United Kingdom, Germany and even in Canada.
This point is driven home in "Guerrilla," a six-part miniseries from writer/director/producer John Ridley ("12 Years a Slave").
Set in London in 1971, the U.K.-U.S. effort stars Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") and British actor Babou Ceesay ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story") as Jas and Marcus, two idealistic young lovers fighting against deep-rooted racism and prejudice.
Tired of being held back and bullied simply because of the colour of their skin, they organize a resistance. With the help of a top activist (played by Idris Elba), they set out to liberate a political prisoner. That's when things get ugly.
Unbeknownst to Jas and Marcus, a special branch of Scotland Yard — the "Black Power Desk" — has been created with the sole purpose of thwarting the black rights movement.
That black lives were systematically targeted by law enforcement officials way back in the early '70s in England came as a shock to Ridley. The "American Crime" showrunner, who won an Oscar for his "12 Years a Slave" screenplay, wrote five of the six "Guerilla" episodes.
Not that he was a stranger to protest movements.
"This is something I grew up with," says the 51-year-old Wisconsin native, who remembers hearing and reading about the Black Liberation Army, the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. They all fascinated him because "they have a real emotional velocity to them." As a screenwriter, and perhaps, he says, "a more mature person," he looks for ways to humanize the people behind the movements.
Jas and Marcus are the human face of "Guerrilla," a young couple in love and willing to risk everything to effect social change.
Ridley first learned of the Black Power Desk while in London four years ago doing post-production on a film about musician Jimi Hendrix. "It was a real education for me personally," he says.
Pinto, who was born in Mumbai, India, was also in the dark about unrest in London in the early '70s. The first thing the 32-year-old actress did when she was asked to play Jas was contact relatives who grew up in England at the time this story took place. "You'd be surprised at how little they knew," she says.
Ridley sought out witnesses among police and protesters to get caught up on the history behind this story. One of the things he discovered was that there was a "cross-pollination" of revolutionary ideas going on from America to the United Kingdom, from the U.K. to Germany and Japan and beyond.
That included Canada where, throughout the '60s, the separatist movement escalated under the radical Front de libération du Québec. The "October Crisis" of 1970 saw the murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties. Police arrested and detained more than 450 individuals. FLQ leaders were tried and convicted. Five were dispatched to Cuba.
Ridley touches on the Canadian unrest in "Guerrilla." One character, Eliette (played by German actress Bella Dayne), is French-Canadian. Just as British radicals had been involved in FLQ terrorism, FLQ sympathizers were active in London in 1971.
"A lot of people there were radicalized," says Ridley. "When you put a lot of ideas in a pot and you stir it up and put it on boil, it isn't necessarily something that is easily digestible."
"Guerrilla," cautions Ridley, is not meant to be some sort of cautionary tale about political divides in America or anywhere else today.
"It's sometimes very painful to be telling stories that are timeless, but unfortunately are also very timely," he says.
"The things that I want people to take from this story and again from the central relationship here are passions, are consequences, are individuals who are there for each other in every circumstance. Those transcend time. I think those transcend borders."
"Guerrilla" premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CraveTV.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press