Idris Elba's Speech to Parliament

“Thanks for such a warm welcome. I could almost feel at home… In fact we’re not far from where I grew up in East London, but as a young man, I never thought I’d come here. In fact as an older man, I never thought I’d come here. But Oona invited me to speak here today. You know what she’s like, she’s a bit obsessed with diversity. I told her to get out more, & stop watching TV. Thing is, when you get out more, you see there’s a disconnect between the real world & TV world. 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. 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.

Why change?
1. Because the TV world helps SHAPE the real world. It’s also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey.
2. Because the creative industries are the foundation of Britain’s future economy.
You guys want to safeguard Britain’s economy, right? That’s your job?
3. If you want to safeguard the economy, you have to safeguard the
Creative Industries; and they rely on TALENT.
Talent is our lifeblood – we can’t afford to WASTE it, or give it away.
But when you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent is trashed.
Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t.
And talent can’t reach opportunity.
Especially on our small island – that’s why British talent gets exported all over the world.
We haven’t done enough to nurture our diverse talent.
But before I go any further I want to say something really important:

I’m not here to talk about black people; I’m here to talk about diversity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour – it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV & film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned. Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor’. I’m an actor, not a number. Just like anyone else.
Yo u know what I mean; all the MPs in the room, (by the way, thanks so many of you for coming.
Oona tells me it’s really unusual to get 100 MPs to turn up, she says often she can’t even get one.) But you guys know what I mean, about not just being a number. I suspect, for those of you who have children, you don’t just speak as a politician, you speak as a parent. Well I’m not just a black man, and you’re not just a politician.

None of us are just one flavour or one colour. If we were, we’d be one- dimensional. And that’s what used to drive me mad as an up and coming actor. My agent and I, we’d get scripts and we were always asked to read the “black male” character. Or “the athletic type.” And that was just Crimewatch… But when a script called for a “black male”, it wasn’t describing a character. It was a describing a skin colour. A white man – or a caucasian – was described as “a man with a twinkle in his eye”.
My eyes may be dark, but they definitely twinkle! (Ask the Mrs…) And I was like “I wanna play the character with a twinkle in his eyes!” So I got to a certain point in my career, and I saw that glass ceiling;
I was very close to hitting my forehead on it.
I was busy, I was getting lots of work, but I realised I could only play so many “best friends” or “gang leaders”. I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role. I knew there wasn’t enough imagination in the industry for me to be
seen as a lead.

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. Now some people might say “but back then, Britain hardly had any black detectives, so how could you expect us to have a TV show about one? How could you expect the BBC to have the imagination to put Luther on TV? …because it’s TELEVISION?!
And the other thing was, because I never saw myself or my culture on TV, I stopped watching TV. Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.
If I aspired to be on a level with the Denzil Washingtons, and the Robert de Niro’s, I had to reinvent myself.
I had to transform the way industry saw me. I had to climb out of the box.
In other words I didn’t go to America because I couldn’t GET parts. I went to America because I was running OUT of parts. They were all the same sort of parts. But 20 or 25 years ago there were a handful of casting directors, without whom I wouldn’t be here today:
– Doreen Jones
– Priscilla John

– The Hubbards
– Leo Davis
– Mary Selwaye
These people regularly auditioned me, they saw the twinkle in my eyes, and put me up for roles that definitely weren’t written for me or my type. At which point I’d like to add, the BBC was the broadcaster to give me my first break. In all honesty they’ve been incredible to me, not to mention our country, and the WORLD. They also had the imagination.

It’s that same imagination casting director Nina Gold had, when she cast the film Attack The Block. She searched the whole of London for raw talent, much of it diverse. She found John Boyega, a British African.
Nina then put Boyega up to be the hero in the latest Star Wars blockbuster.
Since when did the lead character in Star Wars come from Peckham? Since a woman with imagination became the casting director.
It’s the vision of people like Nina, and those 5 original casting directors, that allows me to stand before you today.
That, and the fact I refused to be pigeon-holed.
I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard work.

What all this taught me, is too often people get locked inside boxes. And it’s not a great place to be.
Ask women, they’ll say the same thing. Or disabled people. Or gay people. Or any number of under-represented groups. So today I’m asking the TV & film industry to think outside the box, and to GET outside the box. This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination. Diversity of thought.
Thankfully in our country, we’re free to say what we want. But we’re not as free as we think, because our imagination isn’t that free. We can’t help putting people inside boxes, it’s a national pastime… Funny thing is, it’s not good for the people locked in the box; but it’s also not good for the people deciding what’s ON the box. Audiences don’t want to see caricatures Because the point about a caricature is this: you’ve seen it all before. So I want our incredibly creative and successful TV industry to be more imaginative with the cultural exports we send around the world.