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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.”

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  • [email protected]

    The same problems of racism and discrimination exist in the UK just like they exist in America. The greatest point of Idris Elba in my view is about his words about talent and opportunity. We, as black people, are immersed with talent. We have amazing scholars, teachers, lawyers, actors, actresses, architects, engineers, dancers, musicians, etc. Yet, for many of our people, opportunity is lacking. That is certainly why we should use our power to grow more of our own institutions in expressing ourselves. We don’t have to be permanently reliant on a system that doesn’t respect us or our talent. Developing our own power is very important. The Great recession taught everyone that selfish individualism and looking out for oneself alone (without the concern of the black poor) isn’t going to cut it. We have to think as a community and care about the development of our own community as black people. We are in this together irrespective of our nationality, socioeconomic status, or age.

  • mdottwo

    Does Idris’ complaints include media’s intentional image separation of black men from black women, black children and black community? Does he complain about the white media tradition that refuses to depict black romance, courtship, stable marriage/family image and equal glamour image to black women?

    Black male actors are routinely cast in roles where they are the lone black male in a white world with romantic interests for white women, asian women, hispanic women; any woman but a black woman. White screen writers, producers, directors and studio moguls refuse to present black men in-love with, romancing, giving gifts and flowers to, providing protection and provision for black women. This kind of insidious undermining of the image of black life, is a media tradition that has promoted misogyny against black women from the very beginning of recorded American popular culture.

    To Idris and others who take it upon themselves to indict media in the name of all black peoples; you can only speak in our name, if you are advocating to promote the positive realities of black cultures as a whole; to demand that black men, young and old, be depicted as being lovers of black girls and women, as the protectors/providers of black children, and to laud the beauty of black women to the world. .If these issues are not foremost in your narrative, the majority of us will simply view you as stepping out front to only promote your own career.