Idris Elba’s Character Isn’t Authentically Black, Says BBC Chief

Acclaimed actor Idris Elba is drawing criticism for one of his characters with some saying that he isn't authentically black in the show.

By Doug Norrie | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

idris elba luther

Idris Elba is one of the best actors we have around these days. Almost no matter the turn he takes on screen, he can bring a level of stoic authenticity that few others can command. It’s what makes nearly all of his roles captivating in some respect whether he’s on the streets of Baltimore, the cities of Asgard, or working as a detective in his native England. But one of his shows is facing some criticism for lacking authenticity. According to the BBC, Elba’s character in Luther lacks authenticity and there are calls from diversity folks to make changes going forward. 

This criticism of Idris Elba and his Luther character come from Miranda Wayland, the BBC’s head of diversity in statements she made at a recent conference. Her quote is interesting in that it shows how certain shows are being looked at through lenses not often associated with particular genres. This is a crime procedural with a black actor in the lead. But according to Wayland, the show doesn’t go far enough or work diligently to create authenticity around the character. Check out what she had to say:

“(Luther) doesn’t have any Black friends, he doesn’t eat any Caribbean food, this doesn’t feel authentic…It’s great having those big landmark shows with those key characters, but it’s about making sure everything around them, their environment, their culture, the set is absolutely reflective. It will be very much about how can we make sure that this program is authentic in terms of the storytelling…”

idris elba luther

It’s worth noting that the criticism from Wayland doesn’t center around any of the main plot points or arcs for Luther. In fact, from this quote, it doesn’t seem she is even calling on changes from Idris Elba himself, but rather in the pieces around the character on the show. While she does offer some specifics on how the character could become more “authentic” relative to his cuisine and friends, it’s unclear if this is just used as an example or if she is calling for actual change in the program. 

Idris Elba has been playing Luther on the BBC show for five seasons now. Originally, airing in 2010, the show follows his titular character working in the Serious Crime Unit. It’s a darker show, exploring the world of crime which, at times, tends to pull his character into the depths. Running for five seasons now, the show has received near-universal praise from critics on its style, approach, and acting with Elba at the forefront. The first five seasons are sitting at an average of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes

Luther and Idris Elba have also won numerous awards over the years. He’s been nominated four times for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie as well as notations for Outstanding Miniseries. In 2014 and 2011, Elba won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actors in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. These are just a few of the accolades the program and actor have taken home over the years. 

idris elba luther

Whether these latest comments from a BBC executive end up pushing for change with Idris Elba and the next season of Luther remain to be seen. There’s some chance they are simply too broad a call and the show continues on its original path. It might be a while until we know. As of right now, Luther hasn’t been greenlit for a sixth season so there are no immediate plans to bring it back on the air.