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Idris Elba is defending the right of straight actors to play gay characters.
Disney has come under fire for casting Jack Whitehall, a straight actor, to play an effeminate gay character in its upcoming movie adaptation of Jungle Cruise.
But Elba insists “artistic license is artistic license.”
The 45-year-old actor told Time Out London in a recent interview that, “If an actor has the attributes to do something, they should be able to do it. They’re acting. You don’t necessarily have to be gay to play a gay character.”
He clarified, “Though you do have to be black to play a black character.”
Unsurprisingly his comments sparked fierce criticism on Twitter.
“Did I miss the part of this story where Idris Elba came out as gay and can therefore speak to experience on this and how gay actors repeatedly get passed over for roles?” wrote one user.
Did I miss the part of this story where Idris Elba came out as gay and can therefore speak to experience on this and how gay actors repeatedly get passed over for roles, or…? https://t.co/VL9VcSx8ON via @gaystarnews
— Brian Gray (aka ürb) (@urbanbohemian) August 28, 2018
“Although I do agree that straight actors should be able to play LGB (not the T) characters, I don’t think we need straight actors to tell us it’s okay for them to play those roles,” wrote another.
Although I do agree that straight actors should be able to play LGB (not the T) characters. I don't think we need straight actors to tell us it's okay for them to play those roles.
— Takashi Shirogane (@HouseOfSense8) August 30, 2018
Here’s the thing about Idris Elba saying Whitehall as a landmark gay doesn’t matter. If Bond is played by a black actor a door opens, which we imagine he approves of. While saying cast the best guy cos ‘It’s acting’ he fails to see the commitment to act for change is the same.
— Danny Lee Wynter (@dannyleewynter) August 31, 2018
It’s not the first time Elba has been involved in a debate about representation in film: He’s long been a fan favorite to tackle superspy James Bond, who was conceived by Ian Fleming as a caucasian. While stopping short of lobbying for the role, Elba said demands that Bond be a white cisgender male are “nonsense.”
“It’s a fictional character,” he told Time Out. “I’ve got mad respect for how Ian Fleming described him. He said he was a white guy, looked like this… That’s how it was written. But then there’s interpretation. If we were always bound by the confines that something has to be [one way], people would never have expanded on things and come up with some of the most genius ideas.”
Ironically, Idris Elba will soon be tackling another iconic fictional character previously depicted as a white man: the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He’s starring, directing and producing an upcoming adaptation for Netflix.
“It’s about someone who’s been cornered off because of the way they look, because of a disability,” he explains. “There’s something I can build out of that which makes him more heroic. That’s why it’s appealing to me. And it’s a challenge… It’s a classic.”
Elba, who is of Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean descent, also admitted he felt nervous about delving into Jamaican culture in his upcoming directorial debut, Yardie.
‘I felt the pressure. But when Steven Spielberg made The Color Purple he felt a similar conflict. Kind of like ‘How dare I? I’m a Jewish boy.’ There weren’t really many black people in any of his films prior to that and then suddenly he’s [adapting] this seminal text. I don’t think the director has to be particularly culturally embedded [to make a film].”