"I never saw myself on TV, I stopped watching TV…Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.”
Luther actor Idris Elba is calling for more diversity in British film and television as American actors and directors continue to push for similar change in the wake of this year’s Oscar nominations.
The actor, best known for playing Stringer Bell on The Wire, said that British broadcasting “needs a Magna Carta” when it comes to casting opportunities for minority actors during a speech he delivered to the Houses of Parliament. “Because I never saw myself on TV, I stopped watching TV,” he said, The Guardian reports. “Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.”
Elba said the roles available to him in the U.K. paled in comparison to the ones in the U.S., where he worked as a young actor. Had he stayed, Elba said, he would have been stuck playing “cop sidekick parts” and “best friends.” “I went to America because I was running out of parts,” he said. “The USA has the most famous diversity policy of all – the American Dream. I want that British dream.”
Hollywood hasn’t exactly been a perfect model for on-screen diversity lately—Elba’s comments arrive just as actress Jada Pinkett Smith and Chi-Raq director Spike Lee say they won’t be attending the Oscars following the lack of nominations for black actors.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, responded to the criticism on Monday and promised imminent change. “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion,” she said in a statement. “This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership,”