British actor Idris Elba has elevated an American conversation about diversity in Hollywood to an international level.
The 43-year-old, who was among a group of minority actors who were snubbed from consideration at this year’s Academy Awards, spoke about the issue before a group of British Parliament members on Monday, Jan. 18.
“People in the TV world often aren’t the same as people in the real world. And there’s an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV,” said Elba. “I should know, I live in the TV world. And although there’s a lot of reality TV, TV hasn’t caught up with reality. Change is coming, but it’s taking its sweet time.”
According to Elba, black actors in the U.K. are faced with a “glass ceiling,” and he made the decision to move to the U.S. in order to to compete for better acting opportunities
“I was busy, I was getting lots of work, but I realized I could only play so many ‘best friends’ or ‘gang leaders.’ I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role,” he said. “I knew there wasn’t enough imagination in the industry for me to be seen as a lead,” Elba said. “In other words, if I wanted to star in a British drama like Luther, then I’d have to go to a country like America.”
The critically acclaimed actor then called for his British counterparts to reevaluate the way they portray black characters on screen.
“Are black people often playing petty criminals?” Elba asked, according to BBC. “Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen?” Her further stated:
This is what every young British actor asks me — black, white, male, female — should I go to America to become a successful actor?
And I’m always in a quandary because it’s not always true that the grass is greener. The reason I went to America is because the U.S.A. has the most famous diversity policy of all and it’s called the ‘American Dream.’
“The problem is the gap between the dream and reality,” he said, “to champion diversity is to champion the American dream.”
“Where is the British dream?” Elba asked.
After addressing Parliament, the actor took to Twitter to call the speech “THE most important speech I’ve ever made.”
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) January 18, 2016
Fellow British actor David Oyelowo, who was snubbed by the Academy last year for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, called for a “radical and timely change” in the academy’s nominating process on Monday.
“The Academy has a problem,” said the 39-year-old. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
A week ago, the Academy announced that all 20 Oscar nominations in the four main acting categories had gone to white actors for the second consecutive year. The announcement sparked controversy, and numerous actors, directors and other stars have pledged to boycott the Feb. 28 telecast.
George Clooney said Tuesday in an essay published in Variety that the Oscars are “moving in the wrong direction.”
Critics of the academy are using the tag #OscarsSoWhite.
Read a full transcript of Idris Elba’s remarks to Parliament here.