On Monday 18th January, Idris Elba gave a Keynote speech in Parliament that took the media by storm. As one of the country’s best loved and highly acclaimed actors, he addressed MPs over lack of diversity on British television. Speaking openly, Idris spoke about the “disconnect between the real world and the TV world” and the under-representation of diverse groups including black people, women and people with disabilities. As an actress myself, and as someone who is incredibly inspired by Idris’s work, I found his words inspiring, thought-provoking and much-needed for the world of television and film today.
Echoing the importance and the relevance of Idris’s speech, several stars including Jada Pinkett Smith, have announced that they are boycotting this year’s Oscars as no black actors have been nominated for any of the acting categories. But what isn’t being mentioned is the fact that no disabled actors have been nominated for such awards either. As Idris asks: “Are disabled people hardly ever seen?” In today’s world, this surely should be a reality not merely an aspiration.
I am an actress who was born with spina bifida and scoliosis, meaning I use a wheelchair 90% of the time. I therefore, like Idris, understand the under-representation of disabled people within the media industry. My agent will put me forward for any acting role that suits my gender and age category; however, I mostly find that directors only want to meet me when they are casting for a “disabled character”. This is incredibly frustrating as I am always keen to expand my acting portfolio and show that I am more than just a wheelchair-user. In his speech, Idris says: “on the whole, I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor’. I’m an actor, not a number.” These words resonate so much with me as I feel exactly the same about myself as an actress who just happens to use a wheelchair. I, like many others, am not just a ‘disabled actress’.
In 2015, I secured my first lead role in the BBC Three drama ‘Don’t Take My Baby’. I had read the concept of the drama and knew of the high-profile team behind it all, and I instantly fell in love with the script. Based on a real case, two young people, wheelchair-user Anna and her partially sighted boyfriend Tom, had to prove to social services that they were capable of looking after their new-born daughter. But I certainly wasn’t handed the part simply because I use a wheelchair. The audition process was hard work; but it was definitely the making of me as an actress, not because the part was specifically for a wheelchair-user, but because the piece allowed me to tell an important story and also gave me the opportunity to (hopefully!) be a role model for other young disabled people who want to see more inclusion within the media. In the industry, we certainly need more of this – more opportunity, more “diversity of thought”.
So as we continue our work in this industry, I want to sincerely thank Idris Elba for his speech and for drawing such attention to this important subject.
Idris, if you're reading, please get in touch and let's smash the box!
Categorised under: Staff