Where do we take the fight for greater representation in our media? Idris Elba took it to the Houses of Parliament, declaring a lack of diversity leads to a loss of talent. He recounted how his own frustrations at being relegated to “best friend” or a “cop’s sidekick” in British film and television pushed the actor to move to America, where he won parts in The Wire and The Office before being offered the title role in the blistering British TV drama Luther.
Addressing 100 MPs along with senior television executives and culture minister Ed Vaizey, Elba said, “I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role (in the U.K). 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. And the other thing was, because I never saw myself on TV, I stopped watching TV. Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.”
He demanded efforts to increase representation in front of and behind the camera, explaining, “When you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent gets trashed. Thrown on the scrapheap. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.”
Imagine for a moment the world without Idris Elba as a star?
No thank you.
You can watch a portion of this speech at The Guardian.
The U.S. may have helped Elba break through a barrier of prejudice. However, its film and television industry isn’t much better, as this year’s Oscar nominations have made clear. English actor and Academy member David Oyelowo, whose portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. was mind-boggingly snubbed last Oscar season, spoke out about this issue during a gala honoring the AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is black and has also expressed dismay over the “lack of inclusion.”
“The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” Oyelowo declared. “A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then. We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.”
THR reports he went on to point out the importance of the Oscars and what the awards mean cannot be overlooked. “It is the zenith, it is the epitome,” Oyelowo explained, “It is the height of celebration of artistic endeavor within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in.”
Basically, representation matters, especially at the Oscars, where power players are forged and movie stars are made. What happens on Oscar night has waves of impact, spawning new vehicles for Oscar winners, financing films, continuing the exclusion of people of color. Some have argued the Oscars come at the end of a long line of institutional prejudice. But it’s a cycle, not a line.
“This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room,” Oyelowo declared. “I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.”
Oyelowo called for prayers and support of Boone as she leads the Academy through a time of change, saying, “The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on,” adding, “We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard.”
What kind of change can be made? A commitment to seek out diverse films would be a start, but likely one of more show than substance. Another tactic suggested by some—including Access Hollywood Live’s Billy Bush—are term limits, which would dramatically alter the mostly old, mostly white, mostly male make-up of the Academy. For now, the AMPAS seem satisfied to hire as host Chris Rock, who can lay into them on their big night, adding diversity to their event where the nominations failed to. But a good-natured comedic roasting won’t be enough to bury this issue.
Kristy Puchko can’t even sometimes.