Idris Elba Explains Why He Doesn’t Call Himself A ‘Black Actor’ Anymore: 'We Are Obsessed With Race'

Idris Elba in The Take
(Image credit: Anonymous Content)

Idris Elba has found a lot of success in his acting career for the past 20 years, starring in successful series like The Wire and Luther, along with playing roles in DC and Marvel movies, and appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, Beasts of No Nation or the 2013 Nelson Mandela movie Long Walk to Freedom, to name a few. With his fame still very much in full force, Elba recently shared how he has felt that describing himself as Black actor has put him in a “box.” 

Idris Elba was being asked about his childhood in Hackney, which is a predominantly white, but ethnically diverse borough in London. The actor stopped to share his curiosity as to why his race is “fascinating to people.” During his interview with Esquire UK, the actor shared that he’s “not any more Black” due to where he lived or currently lives before saying this: 

If we spent half the time not talking about the differences but the similarities between us, the entire planet would have a shift in the way we deal with each other. As humans, we are obsessed with race. And that obsession can really hinder people’s aspirations, hinder people’s growth. Racism should be a topic for discussion, sure. Racism is very real. But from my perspective, it’s only as powerful as you allow it to be. 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.

Elba, who has long been on movie fans’ list to play the first Black James Bond, shared that he feels there’s an “obsession” with race that he believes doesn’t always help forward conversations about racism, especially when it comes to people constantly highlighting their differences. Idris Elba continued by saying this: 

I didn’t become an actor because I didn’t see Black people doing it and I wanted to change that. I did it because I thought that’s a great profession and I could do a good job at it. As you get up the ladder, you get asked what it’s like to be the first Black to do this or that. Well, it’s the same as it would be if I were white. It’s the first time for me. I don’t want to be the first Black. I’m the first Idris.

Luther: The Fallen Sun

Idris Elba as Luther in The Fallen Sun Netflix movie

(Image credit: Netflix)

Release Date: March 10, 2023 (Netflix)
Directed By:
 Jamie Payne
Written By: Neil Cross
Starring: Idris Elba, Cynthia Erivo, Andy Serkis, Dermot Crowley, Jess Liaudin, Lauryn Ajufo, Natasha Patel and Henry Hereford

Idris Elba's next movie is Luther: The Fallen Sun, which is a followup to his beloved crime series Luther, which started in 2010 and concluded in 2019. In the upcoming Luther movie, detective John Luther will break out of prison to hunt down a serial killer who is on the loose in London. The movie is set to hit select theaters this month before becoming available to stream with a Netflix subscription in March. 

The Fallen Sun is Elba’s first live action movie since last summer’s thriller Beast, which earned mostly positive reviews from audiences, especially for its great action sequences. In 2022, Elba also made an appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder, was the voice of Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and starred in George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing with Tilda Swinton. 

The 50-year-old actor also shared in the interview that he accepts being a prominent part of the Black community, and that being so is part of his “journey.” He does hope that he leaves a legacy that may inspire not only Black kids, but anyone from his hometown of Canning Town, that what he did can be done no matter what your roots are. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.