Idris Elba ignited a firestorm on social media in February after he told Esquire U.K. that he stopped calling himself a “Black actor” because it created limitations for his career. The “Luther” actor was immediately accused of renouncing his Blackness, although actors such as John Boyega came to his defense and argued that critics weren’t paying attention to his message about damning Hollywood stereotyping.
“I feel as I get older – I’m 50 now – we all have fears of saying too much, oversharing and whatnot,” Elba now told The Guardian in a new interview. “And in this day and age, it’s really difficult to have an opinion if you’re in the public eye because it gets overly scrutinized, taken out of context, thrown into some sort of bullshit, zeitgeisty social media argument.”
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Elba pointed to the controversy around his “Black actor” comment as proof that social media is a “conflict incubator,” adding, “Me saying I don’t like to call myself a Black actor is my prerogative. That’s me, not you. So for you to turn around and say to me, I’m ‘denying my Blackness’. On what grounds? Did you hear that? Where am I denying it? And what for? It’s just stupid. Whatever.”
In his Esquire U.K. interview, Elba noted that “as humans, we are obsessed with race and that obsession can really hinder people’s aspirations, hinder people’s growth. Racism should be a topic for discussion, sure. Racism is very real. But from my perspective, it’s only as powerful as you allow it to be.”
“I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box,” the actor said. “We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to. Our skin is no more than that: it’s just skin. Rant over.”
As Elba’s detractors accused him of renouncing his Blackness, Boyega took to Twitter to re-direct the discourse to the kind of stereotyping that Elba was calling out in the first place.
“I think we should fixate on who is typecasting and putting actors in boxes because of this,” Boyega wrote. “Not on making weird adjustments for them. We continuously focus on what we have to do so they don’t do this or that. Very worrying. We BLACK and that’s that.”
Elba himself took to Twitter in the aftermath of his Esquire interview to tell off his detractors, writing, “There isn’t a soul on this earth that can question whether I consider myself a BLACK MAN or not. Being an ‘actor’ is a profession, like being an ‘architect,’ they are not defined by race. However, If YOU define your work by your race, that is your Perogative [sic]. Ah lie?”
The actor has been making the press rounds in support of his new movie, “Luther: The Fallen Sun,” streaming March 10 on Netflix.
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