The BBC‘s diversity chief has claimed Idris Elba’s TV detective Luther ‘isn’t black enough to be real’ because ‘he doesn’t have any black friends and doesn’t eat any Caribbean food’.
Miranda Wayland said the hit crime drama, which won plaudits for having a strong, black lead character, was only superficially diverse and that corporation bosses are now looking to portray minority groups in a more convincing and rounded way.
Elba, who first made his name across the Atlantic starring as Stringer Bell in The Wire, cemented his status as a worldwide star by picking up a Golden Globe, among other gongs, for his depiction of the obsessive John Luther between 2010 and 2019.
However, Ms Wayland told the MIPTV conference this week that to achieve true representation, TV chiefs must ensure black characters have an environment and culture built around them that is completely reflective of their background.
Idris Elba cemented his status as a worldwide star by picking up a Golden Globe, among other gongs, for his depiction of the obsessive John Luther between 2010 and 2019
Miranda Wayland said the hit crime drama, which won plaudits for having a strong, black lead character, was only superficially diverse and that corporation bosses are now looking to portray minority groups in a more convincing and rounded way
Who is the BBC’s diversity chief?
Last February, Miranda Wayland was appointed as the BBC’s Head of Creative Diversity, which the corporation said was a key move in its commitment to increasing on-air diversity.
Her role involves championing its importance in the creative community, ‘with a specific focus on production, content and suppliers’.
She reports to former TV presenter June Sarpong, the BBC’s first ever director of creative diversity, and her appointment preceded a commitment last summer to spend £100m of its content budget on diverse programming over three years.
Ms Wayland took the role having previously been part of the corporation’s Workforce Diversity & Inclusion team, where she had been acting Head of Workforce Diversity & Inclusion, and an HR Business Partner before that.
Earlier in her career, she worked for a decade as ITV’s diversity manager and also previously held the role of Progression Supervisor at Youth Culture Television.
After taking the role last year, she said: ‘I’m thrilled to be working with June to help drive the creative diversity strategy for the BBC, ensuring the diverse voices and talents within our industry are included and better reflected across our outputs and productions.’
She said: ‘When [Luther] first came out everybody loved the fact that Idris Elba was in there — a really strong, black character lead.
‘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.’
Casting more black directors was only part of the solution, she added, but Luther’s creator and writer Neil Cross expressed surprise, insisting that Elba only took the role in the first place because race was not considered important to the character.
Mr Cross, who is white, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
The corporation also formally defended the character, insisting it was ‘tremendously proud’, after seeing the show attracting audiences of 10 million viewers, and being sold to 200 territories around the globe.
It emerged last year that BBC bosses discuss diversity in ‘every conversation’ about new programmes and the issue is ‘non-negotiable’.
The corporation has said it would spend £100million of its content budget on diverse programming over three years, following protests from Black Lives Matter activists this summer.
Shane Allen, who is responsible for the commissioning of all scripted comedy programmes to BBC channels, says director of content Charlotte Moore has been constantly telling staff not to forget to factor in diversity.
Elba confirmed back in August that Luther will be made into a feature-length film, teasing the upcoming flick by declaring: ‘The sky is the limit,’
The character has proved immensely popular with fans with his trademark trench coat and the unorthodox way he solves crime.
The show explores Luther’s different relationships with the character’s wife Zoe and narcissistic murderer Alice Morgan but not his experience as a black man in a police force dominated by white colleagues.
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