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Idris Elba: “The Less I Talk About Being Black, The Better”

Idris Elba: "The Less I Talk About Being Black, The Better"

Brit import Idris Elba has a reputation for being fairly candid in interviews, and never backing down on comments he makes; two character traits that I think amp up his appeal to his ever-expanding body of fans, as more audiences become familiar with the man and his talents.

He’s consistent too, as demonstrated in the snip from an Uptown Magazine piece printed today titled The Question About Black Hollywood That Idris Elba Won’t Answer – on the “shortage of roles for black actors.

Idris’ full answer:

“Next question… I’m so bored of answering that. Are there differences between black actors’ opportunities and white actors’ opportunities? Yes, there are. It’s been said. I’d rather a young black actor read about success as opposed to how tough it was. I get these roles because I can act and that’s it. Hopefully that’s it. The less I talk about being black, the better.

The point there (whether you agree with it or not) being that he’s an actor, not a “black actor” – at least, that’s how he’d prefer to be perceived; a sentiment shared by several of his comtemporaries. As if to say, “relieve me of that burden of representation; am I not a man and not a color?

That’s obviously my interpretation of what he said; I’m sure you have yours.

But Idris exists in both worlds, we could say; he takes on secondary roles in big-budgeted mainstream movies (Thor, Ghost Rider, Prometheus, most recently) – roles in which skin color is really of no bearing on the characters; and then he’ll star in a *black film* (or lead a film with an all-black cast) like the upcoming No Good Deed; but he’s also proactive in the sense that he’ll seek out and produce projects for himself, like the critically-acclaimed Luther, and the upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic; in fact, he was doing just that before most of us knew who he was. 2+ years ago, he produced and starred in an indie thriller many still haven’t seen, titled Legacy, directed by Thomas Ikimi.

The man is doing what he has to do to survive in this cutthroat business environment, and whatever he’s doing seems to be working for him. 

But I’m sure some will take offense to his “the less I talk about being black, the better” comment; or maybe not. It could be seen as naive on his part, especially when paired with the sentence that comes right before it – this idea of a movement towards a post-racial America specifically, colorblind casting, etc.

Some might say that we should never stop discussing the lack of diversity in film and TV in the USA – at least, not until that discussion leads to change. Although, I’ll say that I too am over talking about the shortage of roles for black actors, as I’ve already said on this site many times in the past. I prefer action over words. My question during these discussions, whenever I’m involved in them, is always, so what do we do about it? 

It all depends on your interpretation I suppose, so I’ll leave you folks to it…

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You say a valid point. But I don't think Mr. Elba had the same thought process as you when it came to answering that question. Mr. Elba is no DIFFERENT then the of these sell out black athletes, actors and actresses that want you to come pay and support their films but when it comes to black social issues that they themselves have experienced their SILENT "I don't wanna talk about it, or think about it" As long as their family is living good thats all that matters. Politics is something I been following closely for quite some time, love it just as much as basketball, and you know how many white actors and actresses I see on television or read on the internet whether their a conservative or a liberal you better believe their speaking their mind. Don't believe me look it up. And I agree for the last couple of years I've noticed Hollywood has let dozens of black british actors in the game. It's bad enough that every week there is some white american or british person is turned into a star every week, and now Hollywood is taking blacks from Britain to come play American black roles. And thats why for the last 6 years black film production has been "corny".

Zaidi Baraka

I understand where he's coming from. The word, "Black", is a socio-political construct that doesn't speak to our ethnicity, race, or who we are as human beings, and divine spirits. Unless you want to be taken for all you are intrinsically not, go ahead and call yourself, "Black." It was not by happenstance, but divine coordination and intervention, that when Stokely Carmichael raised the cry: "Black Power", Alex Haley showed us how we can discover our Roots! Meanwhile, we adopted the word "Black" as a temporary, generic term, that had more to do with our temporal socio-political circumstances, here in America, then our all-encompassing heritage that began with our forced removal from Africa! Idris Elba is British, whose roots are both Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian. He knows his roots. He knows the richness of his father's and mother's heritage. He knows from whence he come. Thusly, to expect him to embrace the term, "Black", which conveys a vagueness, belittles the deep richness of his roots! Rather than condemn him, we should booth admire him and support him. For Idris is a truly free man!

Zaidi Baraka

I understand where he's coming from. The word, "Black", is a socio-political construct that doesn't speak to your ethnicity, race, or who you are as a human being, and divine spirit. Unless you want to be taken for all you are intrinsically not, go ahead and call yourself, "Black." As it is, African-Americans are the only people in the world comfortable with being hyphenated.


Idris…Idris…Idris…what an…well anyway. Look in the mirror boo. The reason why you got those jobs is because you're Black. Exactly how much work were you getting in England?! You swoop in here thinking it's because you're talented? No sweetie. You were just the next flava. Sure you are talented and fine. But when they cast you, dearie, they're NOT casting a talented and fine actor. They're casting a talented and fine BLACK actor. It's disingenuous for you to…yawn…pretend that you are….yawn…yawn…oh so bored with the question. Get over yourself. As long as you look like you do, dearie, you will be representing. And BTW, if it's too much for you, buy a one way ticket back across the pond and find your glory there. Because they treat you better as an actor there right?


I love Mr. Elba. He is a wonderful actor and completely right.




Although I can understand his "I'm bored with this question…" comment, I think its a lot easier for someone who is on top, to say that so freely. Also its a hard question to answer, I even get tired of talking about it sometimes, because when you KNOW its a REAL PROBLEM and someone else doesn't acknowledge it as one it could make anyone angry.

One valid reason he could have for not wanting to answer is that maybe he sees first hand the opportunities we may have blown to"write,produce,direct" our own projects. He's doing so and ultimately I think that (along with making noise and keep pressure on "THEM") is going to get us "there".

Also I don't know how "black brits" have it across the pond, and I'm sure its not totally free of racism, but is it the same as here? If not then I can further understand his answer, because it sounds like he's not answering from the same place that an "African American" in his position would.

Over all I'm torn! I mean I disagree with the statement and I feel that You can never talk about it too much, unless you're not trying and it that case STFU. On the other hand if you are doing something…then fight on!!!!


I think in a way this shows how far Idris has got or at least "thinks" he has as it usually the denzel/will smith types that suddenly stop talking about "race" and start talking about "talent" once they've made it but i would mostly attribute this to what gigi said before his black British privilege. Now don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that black brits are on par with white actors British OR U.S that's ridiculous but are they ahead of aa's in hollywood right now? hell yeah! the few roles earmarked for black people- men AND women are being gobbled up by the brits and you know it. What I cant fathom is why AA's are so in denial about this is it a sense or misguided loyalty, unity or just a desperation to see any black face on the screen no matter where its from even at your OWN expense? If aa's were taking the small amount of roles that black Brits get back in England there would be an OUTCRY we have a similar situation with music. Black singers don't get any attention over here whilst the likes of Beyonce, Rhianna et al are lauded however we are very aware of this and even white record producers, labels and a'n'r's mention it's a problem.
AA's seem to be very naive when it come to representation not everyone with dark skin represents YOU. Look, the black Brit's in Hollywood may be a passing fad but i think Hollywood is now besotted with foreign blacks mainly and sadly for the reason they don't have the same racial issues and hang-up that aa's do (hence Idris quote) I can't see them ever returning to casting AA men and women in any decent or prominent roles anytime soon so you guys are gonna have to get used to it and create your own stuff.


Also, I wonder if Idris will want to talk about being black when/if he ever gets the chance to play a black superhero? I suspect race won't be so irrelevant then, eh? I really like Idris but at this point, I'd just rather watch him onscreen and not read/listen to his personal thoughts cause every time he opens his mouth, he says something that makes him more and more unappealing to me.


"Nicole, I am suggesting that all actions start with a thought, which leads to conversation and then, and only then, can action ensue. More importantly, if one always talks in ambiguous terms (i.e. soft- soaping, side-stepping, afraid to affend the opposing crowd, etc) it tends to leave a playing field with no defined direction/problem, nor solutions. In short, although I gave Cherish my Martin Luther King award, I'll repeat it for your consideration. "Many people fear nothing more terrible than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambigious that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody"' >>> Congratulations old, rambling one! (lol) You've produced the most astute, insightful post up in here and in doing so, perfectly summed up why Idris' "the less I talk about being black, the better" remark is so troublesome. I could kiss you! ;D


@Careycarey most times your comments make me silently question your sex. Am sure being black and proud aint same as being unbearable and a nag. Idris has all rights to respond to questions how he chooses to. Not you can have him speak another way. Viola davis and steve mcqueen spoke of the lack of casting diversity to what effect? Didn't we see steve mcqueen's shame get snubbed in the academy awards? And Viola knows all black diversity and talks of it still she's got lots of wigs role (won't back down, extremely loud and incredibly close, the help). so what's the talk for? You dont have to like how idris choose to address the question but you should let a man like YOU have his say.


Idris, could have said "I'm doing alright, stuff the others" but chose not to. He could of also hailed himself to be the saviour of black actors (I thank good he chose not to). What he did do was to acknowledge that there are differences between the opportunities of black and white actors. He has been in the business for a number of years, so will have seen many a career fall flat because of an actors off the cuff remark ranging from sexuality, religion or how much they should be paid.

Personally I like the fact that he has been able to take on such a variety of roles. He and his management team are clearly looking at the bigger picture and not allowing him to be stereotyped.

The question I would like to ask is: What is a black role? Take a day before answering. During that day take note the multiple roles that black people have in the society around you.


I think at this point you have to embody the change everyday, I think that is what he means, the next evolution of things will only be done by people actually choosing more and more to be the change that is necessary. I also think that at some point we will evolve away from black as a modifier to everything. when you see good acting or convincing or entertaining acting you don't think "there goes some good black acting"


Mountain out of a molehill.


I read his comments the other day and I respected that he didn't want to discuss the topic because he wanted to encourage future generations of actors instead of discouraging them with all the talk about glass ceilings and obstacles. I thought it was an honorable remark. I also concur with his stance that talent can take you places and thus he is crediting his ability for all of his opportunities. Now that being said the truth remains is that if he was white he would have gotten more leading roles in mainstream films by this time. Same goes for Chiwetel, Anthony Mackie and others. Maybe all of these guys do need better agents but I'm guessing that's the least of their problems.


With respect, Black folks in the UK, France, Canada & other countries have a much different historical & cultural experience with "Blackness" as opposed to their American cousins. The "races" tend to mix with each other much more frequently, and it's a very multicultural dynamic (Arabs, Indians, Africans, Eastern Europeans etc) not just "Black Vs White". They don't have quite the same entrenched racial divide that seems to be a large part of American society, so their perspectives are greatly different. I agree with Idris's right to assert his humanity over his skin color..

Ashton Morris

What Idris Elba is saying is very valid. As an black actor, it's best to be define by your acting versus your color of your skin. The situations Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie have found themselves is due to their acting not their skin tone. Kerry Washington's role in Scandal is big because A. She is an African-American woman playing a lead role in a primetime show on ABC and B. because her role isn't defined by her race. Anthony Mackie is one of the MOST talented actors under 40 regardless of race. He is winning in Hollywood because he is challenging himself in film. Gigi mentioned Lance Gross and Michael Ealy. I don't find Lance Gross to be as an incredible talent, to me he is the new version of "Morris Chestnut" which isn't a bad thing. Michael Ealy's case is a lot more complicated because his greatest roles are similar to Elba have been roles that a lot of Black people haven't seen him in due to necessarily not target demographic. The greatest role of Ealy's career has been "Sleeper Cell" and I hope that he gets another role as something to that stature. Think Like a Man is a movie while did well isn't gonna draw in the critically acclaimed roles you might think. The best thing an black actor I believe can do is make smart decisions on role and don't look at your race affecting your roles even if it actually might does.

Gigi Young

I think you should ask how much of a factor his British heritage plays in his stance (and how he is perceived in Hollywood). Not only is the British acting scene much, much smaller than Hollywood, but his appearance+British accent places him at a premium in Hollywood. With the former, he can get lead roles African-American actors like Lance Gross or Michael Ealy wouldn't get because in the eyes of most (read=whites) he isn't a "real" American black man (thug, violent, uneducated, crass); in the latter, his American success allows him to return to Britain as a star and then cross back over as his real self (British-accented black man=classy) and gain the respect of the American audiences and critics who coo over any BBC export. Once he opens his mouth, or an article mentions his accent and/or upbringing, he immediately steps from underneath the burden society and Hollywood places on black men who don't make white audiences laugh or dance. Don't get me wrong–Idris is a very good actor, and a hard worker, but he's got to have his head up his arse if he doesn't recognize his privilege.


Every person should read this article and then think of it in terms of "Black" instead of "Height" & you'll get it. Done.


I read this article last night and I get it. I don't blame Idris for tiring of that question. What is he suppose to say that hasn't been said? Everyone knows the deal.

Now as far as him getting roles solely because he can act…I'm sure that's the case most of the time. But we'll never know. Whenever I see a movie/tv show with an all white cast and ONE black/latino/asian character, I assume they needed to meet a diversity requirement(and vice versa). So they found the best black/latino/asian actor out there and cast them. I don't feel that when watching a show like…Grey's Anatomy.


Y'all dont read the credits? The guy is a producer on Luther. SMH!
And in the last season of Luther, Nikki Amuka-Bird was added to the cast so i guess there goes your next black face? I'm glad he is refusing to answer these questions about race.


I also didn't know that he produced "Luther." Good for him.


I wasn't aware that Idris Elba had anything to do with producing Luther. I haven't seen that written anywhere else. Anyway, I loved Luther, but I was disappointed that hardly any other black characters were included. What was up with that? I love Idris' career. He has a right to define himself the way he chooses. Too bad Tyler Perry stole his part as Alex Cross. I'm sure that the movie will suck without him.


I don't think he implied that he doesn't want to be seen as a black actor. What he meant is that asking the question of "how it feels to be a black actor is redundant". Everyone knows that blacks have less opportunities. Asking the question in every interview doesn't make any sense.


I think Idris said it right. We all know the deal. Now let's get on doing what we know needs to get done.

Jeff O

If there is a career model to emulate and/or watch these days, it would be his. At least for dark skin men that is…

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