Idris Elba, star of Luther, The Wire and Beasts of No Nation, has pleaded with MP’s to address their lack of racial diversity in British creative industries.
The 43 year old actor made his eloquent speech in Westminster earlier this week, saying that television was not adequately reflecting reality, citing a divide between diversity in the real world and diversity on film.
“When you do watch TV and you do get out more, what you see is a disconnect between the real world and the TV world. People in the TV world often aren’t the same people as there are in the real world.
This lack of proper representation is strangling the creative industries, according to Elba, who said that whilst change was coming “it’s taking its sweet time.”
Addressing a room of over 1000 MPs, including the culture minister, Ed Vaizey and senior television executives, Elba spoke about his own experience with inherent racism within the film and television industry. He lamented having to leave the UK to get jobs, which were available in abundance in the American market. Admitting there was a glass ceiling for black actors in Britain, he said that he was “very close to hitting my forehead on it:.
“I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role. 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.”
The actor said his own initial introduction into the film industry came after receiving a Prince’s Trust grant – the charity run by Prince Charles, which subsidised his first audition for the National Music Youth Theatre.
“They gave me £1,500, because you had to subsidise yourself; there were hardly any black kids there, none of us could afford it. But Prince Charles let me in”, he said.
“Now talent is a lifeblood and we can’t afford to waste it, otherwise we can’t give it away. But when you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent is actually trashed. Talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t. Talent can’t reach opportunity unaided.”