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Idris Elba Says Racist Films and TV Shouldn’t Be Censored: Add Warning Labels Instead

“I don’t believe in censorship," Elba says in a new interview. "I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say."

Idris Elba'Yardie' photocall, 68th Berlin Film Festival, Germany - 22 Feb 2018

Idris Elba

Christian Marquardt/Sipa/Shutterstock

Idris Elba has an issue with the handful of films and television programs being removed from streaming platforms and the airwaves over racist content such as blackface. Over the last couple months, episodes of “30 Rock,” “The Golden Girls,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” and more have been pulled for featuring blackface. Elba says in a new interview with Radio Times that these controversial episodes should not have been erased but updated with a warning or rating to ensure viewers know what racist content the programs contain.

“I’m very much a believer in freedom of speech,” Elba said. “But the thing about freedom of speech is that it’s not suitable for everybody. That’s why we have a rating system. We tell you that this particular content is rated U, PG, 15, 18. To mock the truth, you have to know the truth. But to censor racist themes within a show, to pull it — wait a second, I think viewers should know that people made shows like this.”

Elba continued: “Out of respect for the time and the movement, commissioners and archive-holders pulling things they think are exceptionally tone-deaf at this time — fair enough and good for you. But I think, moving forward, people should know that freedom of speech is accepted, but the audience should know what they’re getting into. I don’t believe in censorship. I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say. Because, after all, we’re story-makers.”

Elba’s thoughts mirror what HBO Max did with “Gone with the Wind.” While the streaming platform generated controversy for removing the epic film over racist depictions of its Black characters, it did so in order to re-upload the film with both a disclaimer informing viewers about the film’s problematic content and a supplemental video of historians and scholars discussing the film. “Mad Men” is also returning to streaming this month with its blackface episode intact and a new disclaimer attached to the episode providing historical context.

A title card disclaimer precedes the “Mad Men” blackface episode and reads: “This episode contains disturbing images related to race in America. One of the characters is shown in blackface as part of an episode that shows how commonplace racism was in America in 1963. In its reliance on historical authenticity, the series producers are committed to exposing the injustices and inequities within our society that continue to this day so we can examine even the most painful parts of our history in order to reflect on who we are today and who we want to become. We are therefore presenting the original episode in its entirety.”

The “Mad Men” warning is the kind of disclaimer Elba is talking about in terms of not pulling racist contact but providing the necessary context for it so that viewers and the industry can learn and move forward. Read Elba’s full interview with Radio Times here.

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