Idris Elba Scolds the Lack of Diversity in His Homeland: ‘I Had to Leave the UK to Get a Leading Role’

With all this talk about racism in Hollywood, Elba says it’s worse across the pond.

Actor Idris Elba speaks onstage after BBC America’s Luther screening on Dec. 2, 2015, in New York City.
Actor Idris Elba speaks onstage after BBC America’s Luther screening on Dec. 2, 2015, in New York City. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about how Hollywood doesn’t support or recognize black actors and actresses, especially in light of the award season we’re in the middle of. But ask Idris Elba and he’ll tell you that it’s even worse in the United Kingdom. 

The Guardian got ahold of a speech that it says Elba will deliver to more than 100 of the U.K.’s members of Parliament. In it, the black British native described how he knew that if he wanted to make it big as an actor, he had to go across the pond and try his hand at Hollywood, especially since he’s black.

“I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role [in the U.K.],” Elba explains in his speech. “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 described how there isn’t enough diversity in the top ranks of people who make movies and television: the executives who greenlight projects.

“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, adding, “Change is coming, but it’s taking its sweet time.”

He implored the British arts community to take a hard look at the talent it has, lest it go to waste.

“When you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent gets trashed. Thrown on the scrap heap. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.”

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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.

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