Idris Elba Fires Back At Black Actor Controversy

Idris Elba has clarified that his previous statement about not labeling himself as a Black actor was specifically about his job, not his identity.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

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British actor Idris Elba has clarified the statement he made during an interview with Esquire UK, in which he said “I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realised it put me in a box,” kicking off a firestorm of social debate. Via Twitter, the Beast actor stated that he was referring to his profession as an actor rather than his race or identity, neither of which could be questioned. Furthermore, Idris Elba went on to say in the brief post that if anyone chose to define their job by their racial identity, they were free to do so, presumably in a similar spirit to him being free not to.

Idris Elba’s initial statement in Esquire UK caused an unsurprising amount of heated discussion, primarily online or by media pundits. While many have attempted to skew Elba’s statement as somehow being a rejection of his racial identity, it is clear within the context that the actor was acknowledging the dreadful reality of racism but also discussing how he did not wish to be defined by it. Other Black actors, like Star Wars’ John Boyega, have supported Idris Elba’s statement, saying that “I think we should fixate on who is typecasting and putting actors in boxes because of this.”

Sadly, we live in an extraordinarily polarized social climate, when somehow even decades-old anthropomorphic candies have become loaded down by questions of political import and perceived sexualized agendas. As such, it is no surprise that a statement like Idris Elba’s would become such a topic; as one of the most popular and acclaimed actors in the world, his words about his own perception of himself and his choices somehow become a referendum on society as a whole.

Aside from statements made in response to questions during an interview, Idris Elba has been an extraordinarily busy actor. In 2022, he appeared in no less than five feature films, including reprising his role as the Asgardian Heimdall in Thor: Love and Thunder to welcome Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster into the afterlife of Valhalla. Idris Elba also starred in the wilderness thriller Beast, in which he fought both a lion for survival and for the affection of his young daughters.

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Idris Elba also teamed up with fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe supporting player Tilda Swinton for George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing, in which he played a Djinn opposite Swinton’s lonely scholar. In The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (an animated adaptation of the acclaimed children’s book by Charlie Mackesy), Elba voiced the titular fox. 

And finally, Idris Elba joined the Sonic Universe by voicing Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, teaming up with Jim Carrey to battle Ben Schwartz’s speedy blue hedgehog until he realizes the true honor in running fast (or something to that effect). Idris Elba is expected to reprise the character in the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which is rumored to include Jason Momoa as the even edgier and more antiheroic character Shadow the Hedgehog.