Actor Idris Elba suffers backlash for rejecting 'black actor' label

During a recent interview with Esquire U.K., actor Idris Elba said that he no longer wants to be identified as a "black actor" and that he wants his talent to be recognized regardless of his race.

Elba is best known for playing the titular character in the BBC detective series Luther.  Elba found fame in the U.S. as the drug kingpin in The Wire.  He also starred in The Suicide Squad and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.  He had even been proposed to play James Bond in films, a role once played by Sean Connery.

The following are Elba's exact words:

As humans, we are obsessed with race. And that obsession can really hinder people's aspirations, hinder people's growth.


I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box. We've got to grow. We've got to. Our skin is no more than that: it's just skin. Rant over.

Elba was referring to the perils of group identity superseding individual identity.  He was probably calling out the left for its obsession with race.

Let's look at the bigger picture.

Most individuals aspire to be the best in their profession.

But when group identity becomes the focus, the individual starts being called the best professional.  The meaning is that the eminence of the individual is only among a small subset of peers and not among all.  It also implies that the professional is unworthy of competing with the very best.

But matters have changed in recent times, where identity politics trumps everything.

In Hollywood, adding race as an adjective often helps the mediocre.

If they fail to get work because of their lack of talent or box office appeal, or if they don't receive any nominations for their film, they rush into the overcrowded tent of victimhood and claim to be victims of bigotry.

This ploy does work.

The powers that be do not want to be called bigots, so the accusers continue to receive work.  Critics refrain or euphemize their disapproval.

If they are lucky, they could even receive awards for their acting or at least their activism.

Activism in itself is a lucrative career option.  There is copious money to be made in writing books, doing documentaries and podcasts, or running lobbies for any minority group.

But for the talented, who know they can compete with the best, the tag of belonging to a minority group is a hindrance.

A talented actor would consider it an insult to be called a minority actor.  He'd rather be called a great actor.

The other disadvantage of being permanently tagged with the minority group label is that it results in typecasting.  These actors are automatically excluded from mainstream parts.

This may not apply to established black stars such as Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson or Eddie Murphy.  These actors are considered for all kinds of parts, and once they sign on, the part is altered to cater to their background, as it happens for any actor, irrespective of race.  For instance, in The Wind and the Lion, which featured actor Sean Connery playing a Moroccan leader of a warring tribe, Connery's character explains that he was taught English by a Scotsman.  This was to account for Connery's trademark Scottish accent.

But for actors such as Elba, who may not be in the top tier as yet, being tagged by race is a punishing encumbrance.

Elba was making a nuanced point.  He wasn't rejecting his race or the existence of racism in general; he was just saying that he rejects the tag in his professional life.

But nuance has no place in the age of outrage, where being offended is disguised as virtuousness.

Elba was attacked.

Democrat strategist Ameshia Cross claimed: "Something about Idris' commentary here doesn't sit well" and that "he took a dangerous path."

Screenwriter Kellee Terrell attempted to call Elba selfish:

A writer whose work has been published in the New York Times attempted to claim that Elba was repudiating his race to advance his career:

Graphic designer Ced Funches also attacked Elba:

There were many more who attacked Elba viciously.

Most of these may not have read the entire interview, where Elba also said the following:

I accept that it is part of my journey to be aware that [his race], in many cases, I might be the first to look like me to do a certain thing.

He also attempted to focus on inspiring working-class people, irrespective of their race.

And that's good, to leave as part of my legacy. So that other people, black kids, but also white kids growing up in the circumstances I grew up in, are able to see there was a kid who came from Canning Town who ended up doing what I do. It can be done.

Elba also explained the capriciousness of identity politics.  Elba revealed that his British citizenry is recognized more than his race when in the U.S.  But the bogus outrage was so much that Elba took to Twitter to explain his position.

An important section of what Elba said is the following:

I didn't become an actor because I didn't see Black people doing it and I wanted to change that. I did it because I thought that's a great profession and I could do a good job at it. As you get up the ladder, you get asked what it's like to be the first Black to do this or that. Well, it's the same as it would be if I were white. It's the first time for me. I don't want to be the first Black. I'm the first Idris.

Most in Elba's place would have claimed that they are doing what they are doing to inspire others from their race.  They would have talked about a fan overcome by emotion telling them: "Thank you for your work.  Finally, I see someone who looks like me on screen."  They would have claimed that the moment made their career worth fighting for.

But Elba stated the truth.

People enter show business because they want to be rich, famous, and successful, and if they happen to inspire people while doing what they do, it is an added bonus. 

Showbiz, despite the claims of many in Hollywood,  is not where societal uplift occurs.

This is an admirable act of frankness on the part of Elba in an era of pretense for which he should be commended.

Elba must also be commended for his ideas on racial matters.

To overcome racism, one must not only confront bigotry, but also not trivialize it by claiming victimhood where it doesn't exist.  It also means looking beyond race when it doesn't matter.


Back in 2015, Sir Roger Moore, another former James Bond in film, was accused of racism when he said Idris Elba wouldn't be suitable for the part of James Bond.

Sir Roger dedicated a significant amount of his life leading charity efforts in underprivileged nations, including those on the African continent.  He often traveled to these countries at personal risk and helped raised money for Africans' well-being.

But none of that mattered.  Armchair commentators who never raised a finger to help the less fortunate branded Moore, a man with a record of compassion, as racist and never apologized later.

It goes to show the hypocrisy of this crowd that is now targeting Elba.

Image: John Handem Piette video screen shot via YouTube.

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