Idris Elba Doesn't Think TV Shows Should Censor Episodes Viewers Could Find Racist

Idris Elba gave his thoughts on TV programs pulling old episodes (and erasing scenes) considered either culturally insensitive or racist.

Idris Elba

Image via Getty/Leon Bennett/Stringer

Idris Elba

In the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd, several powers that be in the entertainment industry reacted by scrubbing long-since completed projects (or providing contextual disclaimers) for scenes/depictions that some viewers might find racist. A couple choice examples include: NBC Universal yanking 30 Rock episodes with characters in blackface, The Office taking out a similar scene from re-runs/syndication, and Gone With the Windbeing temporarily pulled from HBO Max (then returned with a disclaimer).

Asked about similar revisionism which is also taking place in his home country (remember, he’s British) Idris Elba offered the opinion that he doesn’t believe in erasing old shows. Instead, he said they should be packed with suitable ratings to let viewers know what's ahead. He stated as much in an interview published on Tuesday in The Radio Times.

“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.”

Radio Times goes on to write about English programs that have self-censored as a response to recent events, including a pair of sketch shows that were pulled titled: Little Britain and Come Fly With Me. They also say that Netflix and streaming service BritBox yanked past episodes from 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and the British sitcom Fawlty Towers.  

Elba's comments included a caveat that temporary removal of the episodes in question might make sense in the current climate, but that it's not a good long-term fix.

“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," he 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.”

He also pushed back against the idea that external political voices should be able to dictate what is and isn't allowable in the arts. 

“I don’t believe in censorship,” he said. “I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say. Because, after all, we’re story-makers."

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