In the midst of the Oscar's blacklash (yes, blacklash) over the lack of diversity among this year's crop of nominees (specifically) and in Hollywood (generally), Idris Elba delivered a powerful speech to the British House of Commons about the importance of thinking outside the stereotypical box.
"Who makes TV? Who’s allowed on TV? And when they get the opportunity, which roles do they play, both on and offscreen?" Elba asked the assembled MPs on Monday. "Are black people often playing petty criminals? Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen? Do some people have their careers taken away on a whim?"
Elba, whose performance in Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation was universally praised, is among the many actors of color ignored by the Academy, but he penned his speech weeks before the nominations were even announced. Because, while it's great that something as increasingly irrelevant as the Oscars can spark a conversation about diversity and privilege, it's nothing new.
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Nor is it a strictly American problem. The British-born Elba found that he had to come stateside in order to find the diverse roles he found lacking in his homeland:
If I aspired to be on a level with the Denzil Washingtons, and the Robert de Niros, I had to reinvent myself. I had to transform the way industry saw me. I had to climb out of the box. In other words I didn’t go to America because I couldn’t get parts. I went to America because I was running out of parts.
Elba credits casting directors with imagination, and his own refusal to be pigeon-holed, for his success, adding:
What all this taught me, is too often people get locked inside boxes. And it’s not a great place to be. Ask women, they’ll say the same thing. Or disabled people. Or gay people. Or any number of under-represented groups. So today I’m asking the TV & film industry to think outside the box, and to get outside the box. This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination. Diversity of thought.
You can watch the entirety of Elba's speech below, or click here for the transcript: