Idris Elba’s Luther ‘doesn’t feel authentic’ as a Black lead, says BBC diversity chief

‘He doesn’t have any Black friends, he doesn’t eat any Caribbean food,’ said Miranda Wayland

Ellie Harrison
Wednesday 14 April 2021 14:57
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Luther: series 5 - trailer

The BBC’s diversity chief, Miranda Wayland, has criticised Luther for not being authentic enough.

Idris Elba’s portrayal of the gruff and dogged detective, John Luther, across five series of the hit BBC One drama earned him a series of best actor awards, including a Golden Globe.

Wayland, who was appointed to her role last year, cited the crime drama as an example of a series that is only superficially diverse.

“When it first came out everybody loved the fact that Idris Elba was in there – a really strong, Black character lead,” she said at the MITPV conference, according to The Times.

“We all 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.”

She added that casting more Black actors is only part of the answer. “It’s about making sure that everything around them – their environment, their culture, the set – is absolutely reflective,” she said.

The character of Luther was not written as a Black detective. “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,” the show’s white writer, Neil Cross, previously said.

“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.”

Creator of Luther, Neil Cross, in 2013

A spokesperson for the corporation told The Independent: “Luther is a multi-award winning crime drama series and the iconic role 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 .”

Wayland used the Vikram Seth adaptation A Suitable Boy and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You as examples of recent BBC series that had diversity “baked in”.

At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020, the BBC pledged to spend £100m on making more “diverse and inclusive” television.

The Independent has contacted Elba for comment.

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