BBC Chief Diversity Officer: Idris Elba’s ‘Luther’ Character Isn’t ‘Black Enough to Be Real’

Des Willie/BBC America
Des Willie/BBC America

BBC’s Chief Diversity Officer Miranda Wayland said the lead character of the crime drama series Luther, played by actor Idris Elba, was not “black enough to be real,” because he “doesn’t have any black friends” or “eat any Caribbean food.”

“When [Luther] first came out everybody loved the fact that Idris Elba was in there — a really strong, black character lead,” Miranda Wayland said during a digital MIPTV conference, according to a report by The Times. “We all fell in love with him. Who didn’t, right? But after you got into about the second series you got kind of like, OK, he doesn’t have any black friends, he doesn’t eat any Caribbean food, this doesn’t feel authentic.”

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Wayland suggested that it’s not enough to just have a black lead character and think that’s enough for diversity, adding, “it’s about making sure everything around them, their environment, their culture, the set, is absolutely reflective.”

The show’s creator and writer Neil Cross, however, reportedly disclosed that Elba was attracted to the role precisely because race was not a major factor, adding that his character only became black when Elba was cast.

“I have no knowledge or expertise or right to try to tackle in some way the experience of being a black man in modern Britain,” Cross said. “It would have been an act of tremendous arrogance for me to try to write a black character. We would have ended up with a slightly embarrassed, ignorant, middle-class, white writer’s idea of a black character.”

Luther launched on BBC One in 2010 and ran for five seasons. The drama starred Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, and actress Ruth Wilson as Alice Morgan. The psychological thriller, however, “does not explore Luther’s experience as a black man in a white-dominated police force,” The Times reports.

Wayland said diversity should not be seen as a risk that makes shows unpalatable to mass audiences, but as an opportunity to “bring an edge to storytelling.”

Last year, BBC vowed to make diversity the network’s “absolute priority,” claiming that if it does not, then the UK television industry will collapse.

Late last year, BBC Studios imposed a 20 percent diversity quota on all new productions in an apparent effort to boost the visibility of ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities. BBC diversity chief June Sarpong has also insisted that “white privilege” is a fact and white people “will never be discriminated against” for their race.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler @alana, and on Instagram.

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