Speaking at an event at Westminster, Elba formally addressed over 100 MPs highlighting that the “lack of diversity across British television is causing talented performers to be thrown on the scrapheap.”
In his speech he argued that British television is not providing an accurate representation of society – an issue currently being echoed around the world.
“People in the TV world often aren’t the same as people in the real world. And there’s an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. I should know, I live in the TV world. And although there’s a lot of reality TV, TV hasn’t caught up with reality,” Elba said.
“Change is coming, but it’s taking its sweet time,” he added.
The 43-year-old actor has been rumoured for some time to be playing the next James Bond - making him the first ever black 007. While this is an iconically British role, he says that he came close to disowning his London hometown as he was forced to relocate to the US in order to gain work. Elba says this is due to a glass ceiling for black actors in the United Kingdom -“I was very close to hitting my forehead on it,” he said.
Watch his speech in full below – courtesy of The Guardian.
Elba is now known for his role in dark BBC detective series Luther in the eponymous lead role, but he only landed that after first gaining fame for his role in hard-hitting US crime series The Wire. It’s only since then that he’s landed roles such as playing Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and in a Netflix’s 2015 feature film Beasts of No Nation. If it wasn’t for his States-side relocation though, Elba says he would have been stuck playing “cop sidekick parts”.
“I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role,” he said. “I knew there wasn’t enough imagination in the industry for me to be seen as a lead. In other words, if I wanted to star in a British drama like Luther, then I’d have to go to a country like America. And the other thing was, because I never saw myself on TV, I stopped watching TV. Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.”
Elba missed out on an Oscar nomination this year for his role in spite of the role earning him a Golden Globes nomination. Of course, he’s not the only person of colour to have been overlooked by Hollywood, with the Academy Awards being widely slammed for their whitewashed nominations for the second year running.
Acclaimed director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith have today announced that they would be boycotting the awards due to this lack of diversity.
"How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?" Lee wrote in a letter to the Academy which he shared an excerpt of to Instagram:
Of course lack of diversity on our screens is a huge problem in Australia too – with reality providing one of the few homes for non-Anglo faces on Australian television. Neighbours briefly introduced the Kapoor family to the long running Aussie soap in 2011 but their onscreen time was short-lived. SBS’s current show The Family Law is one of the few shows to bring the trials and tribulations of an Asian Family to Primetime – a big step up from that other time that an Asian family on Neighbours was accused of eating someone’s family dog.
Most of the time the only genre with a more multicultural representation on Aussie television is comedy. It’s an issue that The Feed examined more closely last year: