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Idris Elba explains why he no longer calls himself ‘a black actor’

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Idris Elba
Idris Elba

Idris Elba does not want to be defined or constrained. The celebrated actor is getting candid about his thoughts on race, racism and equality in Hollywood.

Speaking with Esquire U.K. while promoting his forthcoming film, Luther: The Fallen Sun, Elba opened up about how he no longer refers to himself as a “Black actor,” and prefers to just be considered on the merits of his talent.

“I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box,” Elba shared. “We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to. Our skin is no more than that: it’s just skin.”

Elba explained, “of course, I’m a member of the Black community. You say a prominent one. But when I go to America, I’m a prominent member of the British community.”

“If we spent half the time not talking about the differences but the similarities between us, the entire planet would have a shift in the way we deal with each other. As humans, we are obsessed with race. And that obsession can really hinder people’s aspirations, hinder people’s growth,” Elba reflected. 

“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.”

For Elba, his initial motivation for becoming an actor wasn’t anchored in representation or equality, but for the love of the art.

“I didn’t become an actor because I didn’t see Black people doing it and I wanted to change that. I did it because I thought that’s a great profession and I could do a good job at it,” he said. “As you get up the ladder, you get asked what it’s like to be the first Black to do this or that. Well, it’s the same as it would be if I were white. It’s the first time for me. I don’t want to be the first Black. I’m the first Idris.”

He does, however, hope to be an inspiration for young people interested in acting and getting into Hollywood.

“I accept that it is part of my journey to be aware that, in many cases, I might be the first to look like me to do a certain thing. And that’s good, to leave as part of my legacy,” he shared. “So that other people, Black kids, but also white kids growing up in the circumstances I grew up in, are able to see there was a kid who came from Canning Town who ended up doing what I do. It can be done.”

Luther: The Fallen Sun hits theatres in limited release on Feb. 24, and debuts on Netflix on Mar. 10.

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