Idris Elba doesn’t describe himself as a “black actor.”
“I don’t want to be the first black. I’m the first Idris.”
Idris Elba speaks out on labels.
‘Luther: Fallen Sun’ star opens up about race and nationality in new cover story Esquire UK.
“I didn’t become an actor because I didn’t see black people doing it and I wanted to change that,” Elba said. “I did it because I thought it was a great profession and I could do a good job at it. As you move up the ladder, they ask you how it feels to be the first black person to do this or that. Well, it’s the same as if I were white. This is my first time. I don’t want to be the first black. I am the first Idris.
Elba, whose breakout stateside stint on “The Wire” made her an A-list multi-hyphenate talent, dealt with her upbringing in Canning Town, England. The British actor is of Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian descent.
“People say you come from a tough neighborhood. It’s not a difficult neighborhood. If you came from that place, lived there all your life, it’s just your home, said Elba. “It’s a tough neighborhood compared to where it is you to come from somewhere. (Canning Town) was a right-wing, white, working-class community. There weren’t that many blacks, there weren’t that many Asians. There were a lot of blacks and browns in my school, but not so much in the neighborhood.”
The ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’ actor continued: ‘I always wonder why it’s so fascinating to people. This is a question that is often asked. I don’t go up to my black friends in conversation and ask them to tell me about racism. Have I ever faced racism? Yes. I am no longer black because I am in white territory, or rather black because I am in black territory. I’m black. And that skin stays with me wherever I go, every day, in black areas with white people or in white areas with black people. I’m just as Black.”
Elba shared, “Of course I’m part of the black community. An outstanding one, you say. But when I go to America, I’m a prominent member of the British community. “Oh, the UK is in the house!” If we spent half the time talking about similarities instead of differences, the way we treat each other would change across the planet. As humans, we are obsessed with species. And that obsession can really hinder people’s aspirations, hinder people’s growth. Racism should be a topic of discussion, of course. Racism is very real. But from my perspective, it’s only as strong as it allows you to be.”
The ‘Suicide Squad’ star said: ‘I stopped calling myself a black actor when I realized it put me in a box. We have to grow. I have to. Our skin is nothing more than that: it’s just skin. He was furious.”
Elba summed it up: “I accept that part of my journey is knowing that in many cases I can be the first person who looks like me to do a certain thing. And it’s good that I’m leaving as part of my legacy. That other people, black kids, but also white kids who grew up in the same circumstances that I grew up in, can see that there was a kid who came from Canning Town who ended up doing what I did. It can be done.”
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