He explained that he pursued his career as an actor in
America because of the "glass ceiling" and stereotyping he was
running into in the U.K., only landing roles as "best friends"
or "gang leaders,” versus the lead.
“My agent and I, we’d get scripts and we were always asked
to read the ‘black male’ character. Or ‘the athletic type,’” Elba said. “But
when a script called for a ‘black male,’ it wasn’t describing a character.
It was a describing a skin color. A white man -- or a caucasian -- was
described as ‘a man with a twinkle in his eye.’ My eyes may be dark, but they
definitely twinkle! (Ask the Mrs…) And I was like, ‘I wanna play the character
with a twinkle in his eyes!’”
Elba's speech to Parliament was not just about black people,
he acknowledged, but about "gender, age, disability, sexual orientation,
social background, and most important of all...diversity of thought.”
As the #OscarsSoWhite backlash grows and stars call for a
boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards, Elba's words were very timely. For the
second year in a row, all 20 acting nominees were white actors and actresses.
The most notable snubs included Will Smith, Creed director Ryan Coogler
and star Michael B. Jordan, and -- yes -- Elba for Beasts of No Nation.
While Elba's speech did not directly address his Oscar snub,
these were his first comments since the nominations were announced.
Elba also lauded Shonda Rhimes, Star Wars breakout
John Boyega, and Viola Davis, acknowledging their accomplishments in the fight
“As Viola Davis said last year, when she became the
first-ever black woman to win an Emmy for drama, ’You can’t win an Emmy for a
role that’s never been written,’” he said. “That’s why we need more
imagination from our directors, our producers, our casting directors, our
writers -- especially our writers. So I’m just saying we need to be more aware."
Elba’s comments come as more in Hollywood are speaking out
against the Oscars. Back in Los Angeles, David Oyelowo admonished the Academy
for its failure to diversify its nominees for a second year in a row.
“The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical
and timely change cannot happen quickly,” he said. “It better happen quickly.
The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on.
The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change
is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we
need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get
negative. But we must make our voice heard.”