“There’s a disconnect between the real world and TV world. 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,” Elba said in a speech delivered at the U.K. Parliament in London late Monday.
He argued that the TV industry should change because “the TV world helps shape the real world. It’s also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey.” Also, because “the creative industries are the foundation of Britain’s future economy.”
He said that talent was being wasted because of the lack of diversity, and that was having an impact on the economy. “If you want to safeguard the economy, you have to safeguard the creative industries; and they rely on talent. Talent is our lifeblood — we can’t afford to waste it, or give it away,” he said. “But when you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent is trashed. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.”
He said he wasn’t just referring to opportunities for black people but for all types of people. “Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin color; it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and — most important of all, as far as I’m concerned — diversity of thought,” he said.
Elba said that early in his career he found he was only being offered parts written specifically for a “black male.” “I realized I could only play so many ‘best friends’ or ‘gang leaders,'” he said. “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.”
This led him to travel to the U.S. for work, where he was cast in “The Wire.” “If I aspired to be on a level with the Denzel Washingtons, and the Robert De Niro’s, I had to reinvent myself,” he said.
He credited casting directors like Nina Gold for having used their imagination when casting, and thinking outside the box. He cited Gold’s casting of John Boyega in “Attack the Block” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as examples of that.
He stated: “Today I’m asking the TV and film industry to think outside the box, and to get outside the box. This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination. Diversity of thought.”
(Read the full speech here)