Black British actor Idris Elba, who is widely perceived as one of the performers of color snubbed by the Academy Awards this year, delivered an impassioned speech about diversity before the UK parliament this week, amid efforts on behalf of the film industry to rid itself of the #OscarSoWhite stigma.
Elba, who gave a critically acclaimed performance last year in the drama “Beasts of No Nation,” told parliament on Monday: “I’m not here to talk about black people, I’m here to talk about diversity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin color – it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV and film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.”
The 43-year-old star of “Luther” and “The Wire” is no stranger to facing prejudice in the film industry. He has been rumored as a potential replacement for Daniel Craig in the James Bond franchise, which has sparked a racially insensitive backlash. One writer was forced to make a public apology last fall after suggesting Elba was “too street” for the role. And in 2010, he was the subject of another casting controversy when some comic book fans objected to his being cast as Heimdall, which had traditionally been a Nordic character, in the big screen adaptation of “Thor.”
“None of us are just one flavor or one color. If we were, we’d be one- dimensional,” he told British lawmakers. “And that’s what used to drive me mad as an up and coming actor. My agent and I, we’d get scripts and we were always asked to read the “black male” character. Or ‘the athletic type.’ But when a script called for a ‘black male,’ it wasn’t describing a character. It was describing a skin color.”
He later tweeted that the address was “most important speech I’ve ever made, no other time has made me realise [sic] the torch I hold.”
In the wake of two straight years of all-white acting nominations, the Academy Awards are reportedly looking into reforms to avoid another embarrassment. According to The New York Times, the academy is weighing a return to a 10-nominee Best Picture field (which, ostensibly would have helped “Straight Outta Compton” or “Creed” make the cut this year) and even possibly expanding the field of acting nominees in each category, which has historically always been capped at five. There also may be penalties placed on Oscar voters who neglect to exercise their privilege to choose nominees on a regular basis.
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, has already promised “dramatic steps” to address the lack of diversity in the Oscar voting pool, and in recent years, under her leadership, there have been more minorities invited to join the roughly 6,000-member Hollywood organization.
Still, it may be too little too late for some people of color within the film industry. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee have already stated that they will boycott this year’s Academy Awards. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has joined them in solidarity, and Oscar winners George Clooney and Lupita Nyong’o have criticized the Oscars for lack of diversity as well.
Meanwhile, actor Tyrese Gibson has been calling on Oscar host Chris Rock to step down in a symbolic gesture. “No one wants Chris Rock to not feed his family and get a gig that he is excited and proud about,” Tyrese told theGrio on Wednesday. “No one knew that no one of African-American descent was gonna end up getting an Oscar nomination for maybe two or three years in a row.”
“If Ellen DeGeneres or Andy Cohen of ‘Watch What Happens Live’ was hosting the Oscars and the word got out that if you happen to be gay or homosexual you got blackballed and no nomination because of your sexual preference they would have stepped down a long time ago,” he added. “And it would have been fire heat controversy all over the place until the system changed.”