The lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees has prompted headlines and a promise for change from the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but Idris Elba says it isn’t just a U.S. problem.
Elba, who was passed over for an Oscar nomination this year for his supporting role in Beasts of No Nation, addressed an audience at Britain’s Parliament on Monday, where he stressed the need for more representation in British film and television roles.
“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,” he said. “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.”
He also told the politicians that he realized he would have to move to the U.S. after seeing what he called a “glass ceiling” for leading roles in the U.K.
“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. 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.”
Elba broke out playing Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire before going on to land Luther and other film and television roles.
In his remarks, which the actor called “the most important speech I’ve ever made” in a post on Twitter, he called for British broadcasting to reevaluate the way it worked. “Are black people often playing petty criminals?” he asked. “Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen?”
You can read Elba’s full speech here.