Luther: Diversity chief says Idris Elba character lacks Black representation

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Luther, BBC, Idris Elba

BBC’s Diversity Chief has put the Idris Elba series Luther in the news as Miranda Wayland says that the character lacks authentic Black representation.

Wayland’s comments were picked up by “The Hollywood Reporter” and they ended up becoming quite controversial once they went public. Wayland alleges that Elba’s character, for one, didn’t have enough black friends on the show. She also argued that the character may have benefitted from eating Caribbean food in the series as well. While some tried to see the points that Wayland was making, a lot of fans thought that she came off a bit tone-deaf because the Black experience in any country can’t be boiled down to culinary experiences or the amount of other Black friends they might have. Here is some of what Wayland had to say:

“When it first came out everybody loved the fact that Idris Elba was in there, a really strong, Black character lead. We fell in love with him. Who didn’t, right? But after you got into, about, the second series you got kind of like, OK,  he doesn’t have any Black friends, he doesn’t eat any Caribbean food, this doesn’t feel authentic.”

Wayland also said of Luther, which currently airs on HBO Max, that the show was superficially diverse and that it lacked real culture on screen. Wayland went on to say “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.”

The publicly-funded BBC released the following statement about Wayland’s assertions:

“Luther is a multi-award-winning crime drama series and the iconic roles of DCI John Luther has become one of TV’s most powerful detective characters of which we are tremendously proud. The BBC is committed to its continued investment in diversity and recent BBC One dramas “I May Destroy You” and “Small Axe” are testament to that. Of course people can have open discussions about our shows but that doesn’t mean it’s a statement of policy.”

Luther stars Elba as a relentless and ingenious London detective who solves horrific crimes by bending the rules. The series first aired in 2010 and went on to run for five seasons, picking up many accolades along the way. The show has scored a series of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations while Elba won a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television movie in 2016.

The interesting thing about the character of John Luther is that he wasn’t originally written as a Black man. The show’s creator and writer Neil Cross, who is white, said “I have no knowledge or expertise or right to try to tackle in some way the experience of being a Black man in modern Britain. It would have been an act of tremendous arrogance for me to try to write a Black character. We would have ended up with a slightly embarrassed, ignorant, middle-class, white writer’s idea of a Black character.”

Here’s the deal. Since the character wasn’t written to be Black, I think we should first acknowledge how great it is that Idris Elba, a great actor who happens to be Black, landed the role. He got the roles based on his talent and his charisma, not the color of his skin. I agree with Cross that it would have come off as false if he tried to write a “Black” character if he felt he had no first-hand experience of what it was like to be a Black man in this day and age. I, as a Black man, actually take a bit of offense to Wayland’s comments because, while she may feel she has a point, a lot of her assertions are based on stereotypes. The number of Black friends I have should not make me any less authentically Black and certainly the kind of food I eat or don’t eat, shouldn’t be a factor in that determination as well. It’s EXTREMELY tone-deaf and if she was trying to make a point about authentically portraying Black people on screen, she definitely lost me by basing her point on stereotypes that don’t necessarily define the Black experience.

Do YOU agree with Wayland’s opinions about the character of Luther?

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