Idris Elba has stated he stopped referring to himself as a "black actor."
Idris Elba is busy having a real moment. In addition to headlining major franchises such as Thor and Sonic the Hedgehog, he’s also getting ready to bring his most famous character back in Luther: The Fallen Son, and he’s getting ready for more Sonic movies even as he casually drops critically-acclaimed movies like Beast on us. Over the years, many have brought Elba’s race into his accomplishments as an actor, but in a recent interview with Esquire, he mentioned how he stopped describing himself as a Black actor because “I don’t want to be the first Black” to do something but instead “the first Idris.”
Over the course of the interview, Idris Elba is very clear that this doesn’t mean he no longer considers himself Black or that he doesn’t wish to associate with the rest of the Black community, despite what all the right-wingers pouncing on this interview would have you believe. According to him, racism is “only as powerful as you allow it to be,” and he stopped saying he was a Black actor “when I realized it put me in a box.” He also pointed out how silly is it that people tend to fixate on little differences, including the fact that when he visits America, he is unofficially considered more of a prominent Englishman (and an often-rumored frontrunner for James Bond) than a prominent Black man.
Idris Elba also gently addressed the notion that representation matters and how significant it might be for a young Black child to see his success and take comfort from the actor’s casual Black excellence. But to Elba, inspiring others doesn’t have to be limited to skin color but instead is more about sharing similar circumstances. He said he hopes that “other people, Black kids, but also white kids” who grew up as Elba did will appreciate that there “was a kid who came from Canning Town who ended up doing what I do.”
All these swirling thoughts in Idris Elba’s head basically coalesce when he gets the inevitable (and inevitably annoying) interview questions about what it means to be “the first Black to do this or that.” In his mind, “it’s the same as it would be if I were white.” Rather than being constantly put on a pedestal in part because of his race, Elba is wishing that critics and audiences alike would focus more on him as a person than him as a representative of a community (a position he never asked for or wanted), and until they can do that, these groups will never be able to appreciate him as an actor.
Unfortunately, some of the worst people on earth read the interview and concluded that Idris Elba is out to strike a deathblow against so-called identity politics, but taking the interview at face value, it seems more like a very philosophical Elba doesn’t want us to focus on arbitrary things that drive us apart instead of bringing us together. “Our skin is no more than that: it’s just skin,” he said, concluding with a cheeky “Rant over.” And ironically enough, the people who want to praise Elba for taking on some perceived Hollywood agenda are doing the same thing the actor is asking everyone to stop doing: putting him in a box and expecting him to speak for others when Elba, much like the no-nonsense characters he brings to life, can only speak for himself.