Idris Elba thinks we should put ‘warning labels’ on racist art rather than censor it

Premiere Of Universal Pictures' "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw"

Idris Elba has been talking a bit about racism in general and racism within the film industry during the larger Black Lives Matter movement. He’s never really been shy about talking about race and racism though, and he’s notably been the victim of racism in some big, public ways (the James Bond conversation, and his Oscar snub). But on today’s episode of Idris Talks, he chats about what should happen to all of those problematic, racist and racially insensitive films or TV shows. Idris has a good solution:

Idris Elba is speaking out about how racist TV shows and films should be handled. Elba, 47, spoke to the RadioTimes in which he proposed adding a warning label to the beginning of a movie or TV show that would make it clear the content is offensive.

“I’m very much a believer in freedom of speech,” Elba said. “But the thing about freedom of speech is that it’s not suitable for everybody. That’s why we have a rating system: We tell you that this particular content is rated U, PG, 15, 18, X,” he continued, referring to the U.K.’s rating system. “To mock the truth, you have to know the truth. But to censor racist themes within a show, to pull it — wait a second, I think viewers should know that people made shows like this.”

Elba added, “Out of respect for the time and the movement, commissioners and archive-holders pulling things they think are exceptionally tone-deaf at this time — fair enough and good for you. But I think, moving forward, people should know that freedom of speech is accepted, but the audience should know what they’re getting into. I don’t believe in censorship. I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say. Because, after all, we’re story-makers.”

His comments come after HBO Max pulled Gone with the Wind to add “historical context” to some of the outdated and insensitive aspects of the film.

[From People]

I think I agree with him? For something like Gone with the Wind, I think an introduction with historical content, plus a background on Margaret Mitchell and how she was pro-Confederacy, would work. It would also work if someone associated with a TV show – Tina Fey for 30 Rock, one of the producers of Golden Girls – did some kind of intro about the context of their “blackface” episodes, etc. But what about pieces of art which are just f–king awful? Like, I have never watched Birth of a Nation, and no ten-minute intro for context will make me want to watch it. But that’s not censorship – it’s someone making a decision about whether or not they want to waste their time.

Idris Elba on the set of 'Ghetto Cowboy'

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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20 Responses to “Idris Elba thinks we should put ‘warning labels’ on racist art rather than censor it”

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  1. Bettyrose says:

    I agree with this because the next generations need to see our full history to learn from it. You erase that and the same mistakes will just be made again.

    • KC says:

      EXACTLY! This has already been done in American history to the detriment of minorities who see no representation of themselves, and the whites who have a distorted and inflated perception of themselves in history and as a result, now. Learn from history and don’t make the same mistake. I was just thinking about this the other day and how when a racist shows themself I’m less inclined to think! “Say what?! How could you! Everybody, get him!! CANCEL HIM!” My immediate thought is “oh really?? Thank you for letting me know. Keep showing yourself. Let us see what’s what.”

      I don’t maybe because I’m black and I wasn’t raised here so my response is nuanced but not only does that reveal a lot about that person but it reveals something about folks who clearly see and how they choose to further engage them.” It’s just extra (and very helpful) information in my opinion. But it IS just my opinion.💁🏽‍♀️

  2. Lightpurple says:

    I agree with him, markers on artwork (although statues of confederates in places of honor must be moved elsewhere), noting the issue. Or on the tags that appear telling you the show’s content includes: nudity, violence, adult themes and language, add racism. It doesn’t require tacking explanatory videos on every thing, just the warning tag.

    • Original Jenns says:

      Just wanted to say yup – statues of colonizers and racists don’t count! I think statues of confederate leaders/Columbus should just be torn down. Do we have statues of King George around just so we can remember the War of Independence?

    • Allie says:

      Statues and this kind of stuff is something for museums. I would not destroy them but put them where they they can be used for educational purposes.

    • Ashley says:

      Agreed. We see violent depictions of rape and murder all the time on TV and movies, and there are trigger warnings on many. It should be same same. We can engage in critical assessments and become more aware of why these things are problematic.

    • oddsnends says:

      I’ve always liked the idea of stone mountain park turning into a park of shame. Move all the confederate and other questionable statues there. Turn it into an educational experience.

  3. Wilma says:

    Birth of a nation, Gone with the wind. Potato, potatoe. I would hope that they would become less popular as people start to learn about the message these movies send. But it seems people are willing to forgive a lot if they feel a connection to something.

  4. Allie says:

    I agree with him. It’s more helpful and educational to put this kind of stuff in context and add an explanation to it about what is wrong and why it was done and in many cases received as okay in that time.
    A good example for this is Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” which was banned in Germany until 2016 or so. (The uncommented version had been banned again in 2018.) However, from 2016 a version containing 3.500 scientific comments was released which can now be used for educational purposes. So instead of just demonising a book full of BS and making people buy it on the black market and abroad they can now read it legally and actually learn.

    • Jellybean says:

      When I was 14 we were taken to the nearby University and made to sit through a showing of “The Power of the Will”. I don’t care how many educational comments they add, I would never go through that again.

      • Allie says:

        It’s called “Triumph of the Will” and also not available in Germany. Also, it’s not something a 14-year-old should have to be forced to watch. But that’s not the point anyway. I studied politics, communication and social sciences and this was one of the fields I was always very interested in, to learn how propaganda worked how it is still so similar now. What’s the point in hiding it even from university libraries when it is available anywhere else in the world?

  5. Original Jenns says:

    Speaking of that movie, and how I agree it goes along with what Idris is saying: We watched Birth of a Nation in a film class in college, and afterwards had discussions on art and racism. It was very enlightening to talk about 1 – just the cinema and technology of the time as it was a massive movie to do in those days, regardless of theme, and 2 – what it was saying and what it supported and how it influence the population, or really was brought about by the population, as well as future films and entertainment. All of that to say I agree with Idris that a warning, a history, and explanation so we can choose what to watch would move us forward with better teaching moments. That way it’s not always on people of color to educate.

  6. Jellybean says:

    What he says is very much in line with my thinking and what I argue with friends in the pub who are less liberal minded,, but I am White British, so I bow to others on this.

  7. LittlePenguin says:

    Yes! If we hide it and pretend it never existed, then what have we learnt?
    Statues, I think should be moved elsewhere- like they did in Budapest with Memento Park. You can still see them to see what past generations were subject to, and understand now why democracy is so important. A note before a movie, tv show, etc would do the same thing. I think it is important to remember that art is a time capsule of what was happening and it should start broad conversations on why and how things have and have not changed. (and should change)

  8. ItReallyIsYou,NotMe says:

    I think I agree with him too. I struggle between shutting down speech too much (even really offensive speech) because I think that you cannot change someone’s mind if you don’t understand how they think. This is a good line to walk.

  9. TeamMeg says:

    I’m totally with him. Just trying to *erase* racism won’t make it go away. Slavery is a part of American History, a shameful part. We have to teach people why, lest history repeats itself. I feel similarly about some (not all) of these statues being taken down. Perhaps it would be more effective to add another statue next to the one of, say, Teddy Roosevelt, or the Confederate soldier—a statue of an African American or Native American hero, for instance, or a compassionate depiction of slaves, with a plaque explaining why slavery was wrong, why racism is wrong, and how we can make our country and world better, now that we know better. I don’t know—maybe it’s a terrible idea. I just worry that the “erasing” strategy will only serve to drive racism in deeper. Things must be visible and out in the open for us to confront them.

  10. Vera says:

    I completely agree with him. Just pulling movies or tv shows from air isnt the best solution.
    Those type of warnings already exists, like this programme contains nudity or flashing strobes etc..
    I am watching some older cop shows and one has a warning title card before saying “this programme was made between 1975 and 1978, and contains some offensive and discriminatory language which reflects the prevailing attitudes of the time”.
    I think something like this could be the way forward.

  11. Yup, Me says:

    I agree with him on certain points. HOWEVER, Idris sounds like he is offering an opinion on what should happen with racist items in the US and HE is not the target of those racist images or history. Idris is NOT an ADOS so he needs to be conscientious of that when sharing his views. I agree with him AND he should also check himself. He’s speaking on a history that has not harmed him and has not targeted him and his family for generations. It’s easy to be in full support of freedom of speech in his position. And look how many other non ADOS folks were so quick to agree with him just in this thread.

    What happens with statues and other racist historical items in the US is not up to Idris because they don’t harm Idris. The solution needs to be one that works for those who have been the targets for harm. And that is ADOS folks (American Descendents of Slavery). Period.

    Similarly, it would be out of line for me to go to Germany and tell Jewish people how they should respond to and redress the history that impacts their people in that space (even though I am from a targeted community in my own country).

  12. BnLurkN4eva says:

    I agree with this. Like that Golden Girls episode they removed. Instead, they could have labelled the episode and kept it because that particular episode actually dealt with interesting topics of ageism and prejudice. I noticed too that an episode of Ally McBeal dealing with short people have been removed. That too could have used a label and kept in rotation. If we hide the bad from the past, humans will just repeat the behavior. Perhaps if we open up communication about the bad, we’ll be able to get beyond some of it in the future. We are seeing that now here in America as I strongly believe the reason someone like Trump is possible is because of ignorance in our educational system. So much goes unsaid in history classes that many people in this country truly don’t have a working knowledge of the past and little incentive to learn unless they are directly affected.

  13. Valerie says:

    Yep. Cancellation leads to the erasure of history. If we eliminate all evidence of racism, it will be easier to deny it ever existed and for racists to say that we’ve eradicated it.