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Actor Idris Elba To U.K. Politicians: More Diverse Roles Needed

Updated on Jan. 27 to add video of speech:

Idris Elba is expected to make a speech about a lack of diversity on British television before members of Parliament and senior TV executives on Monday, according toThe Guardian.

Elba gained popularity after his breakout role as Stringer Bell on HBO's The Wire, won a Golden Globe award for his lead role on the BBC seriesLuther and is a current Screen Actors Guild Award nominee for his stint as Commandant in Beasts of No Nation.

The London native is expected to point to his own experience having to move to the U.S. to land roles before being able to get a lead role in his home country, according to The Guardian, which has excerpts of his speech.

"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. 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."

Elba will tell the audience that without going to the U.S., he would have remained the "best friend" and "cop sidekick," adding:

"But 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."

Elba is not the first British actor of color to make these observations. Late last year, David Oyelowo, who starred as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, said he also felt "pushed out of the U.K. because of the glass ceiling" that prevented actors of color from landing lead roles in his home country.

"I could see that actors, my peers, those who had a similar trajectory to me were going on to do movies, to play leads. I started to feel I was going to go round in circles. Nice TV, back to the theatre, nice TV ... but I wasn't going to be James McAvoy, I wasn't going to be Benedict Cumberbatch."

Sophie Okonedo, who snagged a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda in 2004, and won a Tony award for A Raisin in the Sun, told The Guardian in 2014 she was "still struggling [in the U.K.] in a way that my white counterparts at the same level wouldn't have quite the same struggle. People who started with me would have their own series by now, and I'm still fighting to get the second lead or whatever. I think I'm at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn't my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is? There's something amiss there."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.

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