Idris Elba’s Powerful Diversity Speech




film-1155439_960_720On Tuesday (Jan.29) Idris Elba addressed the UK’s parliament giving a powerfull speech on issues of diversity in Hollywood. “I’m not hear to talk about black people, I’m here to talk about diversity.” Elba went on to define what diversity means to him to those assembled in the House of Commons. “Diversity in the modern world is more then just skin color — it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background and — most importantly of all, as far as I’m concerned — diversity of thought.”

When Elba was an up and coming actor what annoyed him and his agent would be scripts that he got that always asked him to read ‘the black male character,’ or the ‘athletic type character.’ “When the script asked for a black male it was not describing a persons character,it was decribing the black male as a skin colour.

A white character or a white male was always called a Caucasian or a man with a twinkle in his eyes. And Elba wanted to play this character, the guy with the twinkle in his eyes. He wasnt out of work, he had lots of scripts to play but he realized he could only play so many ‘bestfriends’ or ‘gang leaders,’ these were the parts that he was mostly given. He knew that he was not going to land a leading role, “There was not enough imagination yet for the industry to see me as a lead.

Still Elba aspired to be on the levels of Denzel Washington and the Robert De Niro’s of the world, and so he had to re-invent himself. He had to transform the way the industry saw him and climb out of the box. “If i wanted to star in a British series like Luther, then i had to go to another country like America. I didn’t go to America because I didn’t have parts, I went to America because I was running out of parts, all the parts that I was getting were the same.”

He mentioned Nina Gold, a casting director who searched the whole of London for diverse raw talent and she found John Boyega, a British born African. Nina put Boyega up in the leading character of the latest star wars blockbuster. Elba describe people like Nina as visionaries such because they are the one’s that saw Idris playing parts in films that he at one point could only imagine.”I really want our industry, creative and television to be more imaginative with the cultural exports we send around the world.”

Elba feels that as much as Britain is richly diverse and multicultural, that is something that one cannot witness when they turn on the Tv. “When you get out more, you see there’s a disconnect between the real world and TV 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.”


He suggested three things that will bring along the change that is needed:

  1. A change in the mindset of all commissioners and content creators, to think about diversifying at the beginning of the creative process and not at the end.
  2. Implementing transparency systems and bench marks to see who and  what broadcasters are actually doing when it comes to creative diversity.
  3. Developing a different approach towards risk. “Commissioners look at diverse talent as risk,black actors in a leading role is seen as a commercial risk, having woman as directors is seen as a commercial risk, and disabled directors are never ever seen. If broadcasters want to stay in the game then commissioners need to take more risk with diverse talent.”

And he didnt stop there, he posed some hard question that we need to ask:

“We have to ask the question are black people normally playing petty criminals, are women always the love interest or talking about men, are gay people always stereotyped, are gay people ever seen at all?. Do some people have their careers taken away at a whim, is there talent that is unfairly ignored?.”

Elba’s speech was amazing and it touched on a lot of powerful points that are just as controversial here in the United States as they are across the Atlantic . He ends the speech by asking for mankind to be more imaginative in everything that we do, to fish for talent more consistently across groups instead of picking from one particular group all the time.

“All am asking for is some real imagination, untold stories, the road less travelled. Lets think outside the box in fact lets smash the box!.”

For full text of Idris Elba’s Speech

Who is Idris Elba?

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