BBC Diversity Chief Says Luther Needs More Authenticity, Including Some Black Friends

Idris Elba in Luther (2010-present)
Idris Elba in Luther (2010-present)
Photo: BBC Studios

Idris Elba is in the buzzy news again, but for once it’s not about James Bond speculation! This time, it’s actually a bit more complicated and focuses on his character, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther, in the BBC One series aptly titled, Luther.

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Black Twitter (both Black American and Black British members since the show has global range) had a lot to discuss after BBC Diversity Chief Miranda Wayland questioned the popular character’s authenticity at the MIPTV Conference this week.

“When it first came out everybody loved the fact that Idris Elba was in there — a really strong, Black character lead,” Wayland said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We all fell in love with him. Who didn’t, right? But after you got into, about, the second series you got kind of like, OK, he doesn’t have any Black friends, he doesn’t eat any Caribbean food, this doesn’t feel authentic.”

THR provides more context on the acclaimed show as well as Wayland’s professional background:

Luther was created and is written by Neil Cross, a white man, and stars Elba as an on-the-edge, relentless and ingenious London detective who solves horrific crimes by bending the rules. First airing in 2010, the show has run for five seasons and scored a string of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, with Elba winning a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie in 2016.

Wayland was hired by the BBC in February 2020, as part of the corporation’s push to increase the diversity of on-air talent and she reports June Sarpong, who joined the BBC as its first-ever director of creative diversity in late 2019.

Per the Daily Mail, Cross noted that Elba actually took the role because it was initially presented as a colorblind casting situation and that race was not important to the character’s arc.

“I have no knowledge or expertise or right to try to tackle in some way the experience of being a Back man in modern Britain,” Cross said. “’It would have been an act of tremendous arrogance for me to try to write a Black character. We would have ended up with a slightly embarrassed, ignorant, middle-class, white writer’s idea of a Black character.”

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Wayland’s insight caused a polarizing discussion on Twitter, particularly in regards to combating racial stereotypes and the conversation of what’s “Black enough,” but also opening up a discussion on creating fully realized environments where Black culture is represented—even in the little details or side characters surrounding the main character.

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BBC made a comment, noting that the corporation was “tremendously proud” of Luther, boasting about 10 million viewers, and the series has been licensed to 200 territories around the world. Last summer, Elba teased that the possibility of producing a feature film based on the series was getting closer to reality.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

DISCUSSION

gotpma
GOTPMA

This was one of the main reasons I liked Luther. I don’t think once during that run of shows was his race brought up. Why can’t we have a flawed, badass character that just happens to be black?