Idris Elba Denying His Own “Blackness”? Marvel Star Speaks Out

in Entertainment, Marvel

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Credit: Marvel Studios

Marvel star and James Bond fan-cast favorite, Idris Elba, shares his two cents.

Idris Elba in Prometheus
Credit: 20th Century Studios

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Hailing from Hackney, London, in the United Kingdom, Idris Elba is one of those perennially likable British-actors-in-Hollywood who seem to ooze the kind of charisma that warrant frequent calls to be cast as James Bond (in fact, he might lose out to another Marvel star). Recently, the actor stirred up some controversy with several statements in interviews and on social media that have the public split on whether they agree with the Marvel actor.

Idris Elba in Prometheus
Credit: 20th Century Studios

A Golden Globe-winning actor who wears so many hats that he seems to encompass a Multiverse all on his own, Idris Elba has played the fan-favorite all-seeing god and guardian of the Bifrost in Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, Heimdall. A staple of the Thor franchise ever since Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) debut in the MCU, Elba’s Gatekeeper of Asgard was murdered in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) by Thanos (Josh Brolin) in cold blood, but saving Thor in the process. As pivotal and well-liked as his character was, Elba famously did not enjoy the process of making the films as much (especially 2013’s Thor: The Dark World).

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Credit: Disney Animation Studios

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It’s not just Marvel properties that British actor Idris Elba has acted in, though — not by a long shot. The actor is known for roles in acclaimed BBC television series Luther (2010) as DCI John Luther, Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013), Walter in In The Long Run (2018), Russell Bell AKA Stringer in The Wire (2002), Charles Miner in the US version of The Office (2009), Commandant in Beasts of No Nation (2015), opposite Tilda Swinton as Djinn in Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022), and even The Walt Disney Company’s own Zootopia (2016) as Chief Bogo, just to name a few. However, Elba’s charm has perhaps been tarnished for some after several statements that the actor made, across various platforms.

What did Idris Elba say about being a “Black actor”, at first?

Speaking to Esquire magazine while promoting Luther: The Fallen Sun (2023), the British actor first explained why he “stopped describing myself as a Black actor”, citing that it “put him in a box”, and that his (and everyone’s) skin is “just skin”:

I stopped describing myself as a Black actor when I realized it put me in a box. We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to. Our skin is no more than that: it’s just skin. Rant over.

When the interview blew up, Idris Elba took to Twitter to expand on his viewpoint, and air some grievances:

There isn’t a soul on this earth that can question whether I consider myself a BLACK MAN or not. Being an ‘actor’ is a profession, like being an ‘architect’ ,they are not defined by race. However, If YOU define your work by your race, that is your Perogative. Ah lie?

Chris Greene came forward and shared his perspective, claiming that he too, experienced stereotyping in the industry while calling himself a “Black actor”. Ultimately, he thanks Elba for “shining a light on this” issue:

I stopped calling myself a “Black Actor” long time ago…soon as I did the auditions stopped coming in.
Love that you are shining light on this man.

There have been some hard-hitting responses, however, including Steven Underwood’s take that if Elba doesn’t want to align himself with “Blackness” due to its status in the industry, then he should not “stand when it comes tie to consider the greats” of that community. Underwood then asks if Elba has chosen to “drop out of the genre in favor of money and repute”:

Its about how you define the art you do. The genre it overlaps. The human experiences you are speaking to. If you feel your art cannot be defined with a community of Blackness then don’t stand when it comes time to consider the greats of that work
(continued) Not a soul is questioning if you’re Black. They’re questioning if you have chosen to drop out of the genre in favor of money and repute in genres that do not include us or do not consider us. Which honestly, can be a yes. Is that a lie?

Idris Elba’s response to “denying his Blackness”

Elba calls social media a “conflict incubator”, when he recently sat down with The Guardian. He states again that it is his own “prerogative” whether he wants to associate with the label of “Black actor” or not, and that he is not “denying [his] Blackness”. In the end, he calls the backlash “just stupid”, ending his thought with an emphatic “whatever”.

Me saying I don’t like to call myself a Black actor is my prerogative. That’s me, not you. So for you to turn around and say to me, I’m ‘denying my Blackness’. On what grounds? Did you hear that? Where am I denying it? And what for? It’s just stupid. Whatever.

As he expands in that initial Esquire UK interview, Elba is not saying that he denounces his “Blackness” in any way, nor is he no longer considering himself “black”. Which according to him, does not mean that he denies that racism exists. His point of view is that “Black” is simply the color of his skin and his racial heritage — but that it doesn’t need to be a label that he deliberately applies to himself, particularly tied to his profession, “acting”. In his own words, Elba believes that, “that skin stays with me no matter where I go, every day, through Black areas with white people in it, or white areas with Black people in it”. He is “the same black”. Whether people agree with him, is a different matter.

Do you agree with Idris Elba’s distancing himself from the label of “Black actor”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

in Entertainment, Marvel

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