Idris Elba to Parliament, “I’m not just a black actor, don’t lock me in a box”

Actor Idris Elba makes a heartfelt appeal to the British Parliament to act against the lack of diversity in media, as Hollywood faces a similar controversy.

Every single one of the nominees in the acting categories of the 88th edition of the Oscars are white, just like last year. This has re-stoked a fire of controversy that has long burned at the heart of Hollywood, namely the absence of diversity among those chosen as the best performers of the year by the United States’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“the Academy”). Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith will be boycotting the award ceremony, which will take place on the 28th of February in Los Angeles, and a Twitter storm denouncing the Oscars has congregated around the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

 

It is in the midst of such heightened media attention around an issue as old as cinema itself that British actor Idris Elba spoke to his country’s Parliament on the 18th of January about the need to encourage diversity in media. Best known for his role in the US series The Wire, the actor of Ghanian descent made a passionate appeal for more diverse and multidimensional roles for people of colour, women, individuals with disabilities and of diverse sexual orientations, as well as more empowered positions for such groups in the creative industries in general. He used his personal experience as a black actor in Britain to demonstrate just how much needs to be done to create more inclusive television and film that is also more reflective of reality.

 

Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour, it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and, most important of all as far as I’m concerned, diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV and film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.

 

As an up and coming actor … when a script called for a ‘black male’, it wasn’t describing a character. It was a describing a skin colour. A white man was described as ‘a man with a twinkle in his eye’. My eyes may be dark, but they definitely twinkle!

 

Today I’m asking the TV and film industry to think outside the box, and to get outside the box. This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination. Diversity of thought.

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