Idris Elba: Don't ban all old racist TV shows - viewers need to know they got made

Albertina Lloyd
·Entertainment reporter, Yahoo UK
·3-min read
File photo dated 11/12/18 of Idris Elba, who has said that his success has not "negated" his experience of racism.
Idris Elba has said racist TV should not be banned, but rated offensive. (PA)

Idris Elba has said dated racist TV shows should not be cancelled - as people need to know they got made.

The Luther star said he understood when some old shows - such as Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh - were being pulled from streaming platforms at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, but he believed censorship was not the answer.

Elba told the Radio Times: “I think viewers should know that people made shows like this. Yes, out of respect for the time and the [Black Lives Matter] movement, commissioners and archive-holders [are] 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.”

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David Walliams (right) and Matt Lucas in a special Comic Relief performance of the Little Britain stage show at the Hammersmith Apollo in west London.
'Little Britain' has been removed from BBC iPlayer for perpetuating racial and anti-LGBTQ sterotypes. (PA)

And the 47-year-old actor proposed a rating system to warn viewers of offensive content but maintain freedom of speech.

He added: “I’m very much a believer in freedom of speech, 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.”

Elba’s comments chime with those of Channel 4 editor-at-large Dorothy Byrne.

She has said the removal of offensive shows from it’s on-demand archive should be the exception and not the rule, favouring the introduction of warnings.

Writing in The Guardian she said: “Those thousands of hours of material are not only our own history as a broadcaster, they are part of the social history of our country.”

Comedian Leigh Francis poses for photographers on arrival at the TV Choice Awards in central London on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. (Photo by Grant Pollard/Invision/AP)
Comedian Leigh Francis has apologised for portraying black characters in his sketch show Bo' Selecta. (AP)

Byrne added: “If much-loved characters in the past made homophobic comments or dressed up as people from other ethnic groups or pretended to be people who use wheelchairs, should we destroy that evidence of the social attitudes of the times? Cleaning up our past erases evidence of how views that we would now consider reprehensible were once normalised.”

She said shows which contain offensive material, “are generally best handled by adding warnings rather than removing them entirely.”

Byrne added: “We know that it is a matter of judgement, but we will begin from the premise that we should not destroy the past, however embarrassing that past may be, except in exceptional circumstances.”

In the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests - sparked by the death of George Floyd - several comedy shows have been removed from streaming platforms due to their use of blackface.

These include The League of Gentlemen, The Mighty Boosh, Little Britain and some episodes of 30 Rock, which were removed at creator Tina Fey’s own request.

March 16th 2020 - Actor Idris Elba has tested positive for the coronavirus. - File Photo by: zz/KGC-254/STAR MAX/IPx 2018 8/21/18 Idris Elba at the world premiere of "Yardie" held at the BFI Southbank Cinema. (London, England, UK)
Idris Elba has said offensive shows should be given ratings, not banned. (AP)

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Little Britain’s Matt Lucas and David Walliams have apologised for their use of blackface in the BBC comedy.

Comedian Leigh Francis has also issued an apology for portraying black celebrities - including Craig David, Michael Jackson and Trisha Goddard - on sketch show Bo’ Selecta.

HBO Max has removed the 1939 film Gone with the Wind due to its racist portrayal of black characters, and said they would re-add it with a new introduction putting the film in historical context.

And UKTV has taken down Fawlty Towers episode The Germans - which includes racist language to describe cricket teams from the West Indies and India - with plans to reintroduce it with an "offensive content and language".

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