A glass ceiling exists for black actors in Britain, and according to Idris Elba, “I was very close to hitting my forehead on it.”
That’s just one remark the 43-year-old star is said to be making when he goes before Parliament today, imploring over 100 MPs, including culture minister Ed Vaizey, and senior television executives to take a serious look at their diversity problem when it comes to entertainment. According to The Guardian, in the meeting organized by Channel 4, Elba will also state:
“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. Change is coming, but it’s taking its sweet time.”
It’s that lag in time that prompted Elba to leave London, where he said he’d always be playing “best friends” and “cop sidekick parts,” and head to New York City in the mid-90s to gain more opportunity.
“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.”
Fortunately for Elba, but unfortunately for the industry as a whole, the actor was right. Since landing a staring role on The Wire in 2002, Elba has risen to become a rather highly sought after lead actor, with many questioning the Academy’s failure to nominate him for his latest role in Beasts of No Nation, among many others, like his portrayal of Nelson Mandela, in the past. Accolades aren’t what’s on Elba’s mind at the moment though, he’s far more concerned with the lack of opportunity in his native country.
“[W]hen you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent gets trashed. Thrown on the scrapheap. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.”