Idris Elba is not interested in more dialogue about the dearth of Black roles available in Hollywood. When Jada Yuan of New York Magazine queried the actor about the subject that just won’t go away (because racism hasn’t!) Elba dismissed the question by saying, “Next question…I’m so bored of answering that.” Clearly.
He went on: "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."
To be fair, it’s not like Elba hasn’t addressed the subject of race before.
When met with protests among self-described comic book purists in addition to unabashed racists about his role in Thor, the actor told the Los Angeles Times: “Purist comic-book fans are one thing. Out-and-out racism is another… Of course, the more I speak on this topic, the more I fuel it. But, look, if people have a problem with me playing the character, just don’t go see the movie, you know?”
That said, this isn’t the first time he’s conveyed a hint of annoyance when asked about racial matters.
Last fall, while addressing rumors about him being cast as James Bond – which would be quite the feat considering, uh, his background – Elba called it “a very old rumor,” though he did note to CNN.com, "I would do it, but I don't want to be called the first Black James Bond. Do you understand what I'm saying? Sean Connery wasn't the Scottish James Bond and Daniel Craig wasn't the blue-eyed James Bond. So if I played him, I don't want to be called the Black James Bond."
How “post-racial.” When it comes to racists, Elba could have ignored the backlash completely and their prejudices would still be fueled. His existence alone is enough to achieve that. As for there not being actors known as the Scottish or blue-eyed James Bond, that’s because neither aesthetic carries the stigma that being Black does in their world.
Elba has every right to declare that he doesn’t want to be bombarded with his Blackness in every single interview. I totally get the sentiment that it gets tiring to be asked the same question the exact same way and it continuously net the same results – especially if the inquiry is framed in a way that might read as discouraging to young Blacks with acting ambitions. After a while, I can imagine one may wonder what’s the point?
On the other hand, while our conflicting stances are likely rooted in cultural differences, I have trouble following the school of thought that states ignoring a problem will somehow correct it.
Yes, Elba is earning major awards, producing his own works, and carving his own path. All of that is admirable to a young Black actor. Still, the reality is we live in an age where a Black actress getting a lead role on a broadcast network show is something that only happens once every three decades. A time when a romantic comedy starring an all-Black cast (written by White screenwriters) besting its White rivals (given it’s superior in terms of work and marketing) baffles people who refuse to step out of their lily-white bubbles.
And on. And on. And on.
I was taught to know that my race isn’t everything that I am, though it is an important part of me – and possibly more important to others. That never swayed me from pursing a dream. It only made sure that I didn’t move through life with blinders.
If Elba doesn’t want to keep answering that same question, so be it. However, I hope his peers don’t follow his lead en masse. Yes, young Black actors should know about the successes happening today…but they definitely ought to know how tough it continues to be.
Success rarely comes without obstacle and anyone – Black, White, Smurf blue – can benefit from that lesson.