Idris Elba says he does not agree with censoring old sitcoms because of modern sensibilities about race.
Sitcoms including Little Britain, which came under fire because of the use of blackface make-up in some sketches, was recently dropped from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox.
But Elba, 47, told the Radio Times. ‘I’m very much a believer in freedom of speech.’
Speaking out: Idris Elba says he does not agree with censoring old sitcoms because of modern sensibilities about race
‘Instead, there should be a ratings system warning viewers that a film or show has outdated, insulting viewpoints,’ he said.
While not referring to a specific programme, Elba said: ‘To mock the truth, you have to know the truth. But to censor racist themes within a show, to pull it… I think viewers should know that people made shows like this.
‘Commissioners and archive-holders pulling things they think are exceptionally tone-deaf at this time – fair enough and good for you.
Criticised: Little Britain has been taken down from streaming sites because of scenes involving blackface
‘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,’ Elba added. ‘I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say. Because, after all, we’re story-makers.’
The In The Long Run actor said boosting diversity needs a change in attitude.
‘Money helps,’ he said, but added: ‘It’s a shift in attitude, in perspective, in tolerance. And you can’t put an amount on that.’
Recovered: Elba also discussed how it felt being one of the first high-profile names to contract coronavirus, saying it was a ‘traumatic’ experience
In an apparent reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests, Netflix pulled Little Britain from streaming services last month, along with Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ other comedy Come Fly With Me.
Then the BBC and BritBox both confirmed they had also decided to remove Little Britain saying ‘times have changed’ since the show first aired.
Similarly, Bo’ Selecta, which impersonated black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson has been removed from All 4 after creator Leigh Francis recently issued a tearful apology. It is, however, still available on Prime Video.
It suggested an uncertain future for other popular comedy series which feature similar techniques, though many are still available to watch on streaming sites.
The decision by Netflix to remove Lucas and Walliams’ two series sparked anger from subscribers to the service, who were annoyed when they discovered the two shows had been dropped.
The move is likely to lead to calls for more outdated shows that may be seen as racist to be removed.
Could the axe swing on more of Britain’s favourite comedies?
League of Gentlemen
Papa Lazarou features in League of Gentlemen, which is still available to watch on Neflix and iPlayer
Steve Pemberton and Mark Gattis’ BBC comedy features a character called Papa Lazarou – a blacked-up ringmaster who calls everybody Dave. He collects spouses by forcing his way into women’s homes posing as a humble peg-seller, then talks gibberish at them until they hand over their wedding rings, at which point he says: ‘You’re my wife now!’ League of Gentlemen is still available to watch on both Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Leigh Francis said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the way he impersonated stars such as Trisha Goddard
Comedian Leigh Francis tearfully apologised for impersonating black stars such as Craig David, Trisha Goddard and Michael Jackson on his programme. Talk show host Trisha said it ’emboldoned a lot of casual racism’ while popstar David insists it ruined his life. Bo’ Selecta is no longer on All 4 but remains on Prime Video.
Apu has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes
Hank Azaria announced earlier this year he will no longer voice Indian immigrant and Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu on The Simpsons after 30 years. The South Asian character has come under fire for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The Simpsons is broadcast regularly on Channel 4 and can be streamed on Disney+.
Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry and Paul
Nelson Mandela was parodied in Harry and Paul’s sketch show
Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse faced criticism in their sketch series for their depiction of Nelson Mandela appearing on adverts selling various narcotics and promoting shoplifting.
The character of Rupert Rigsby has also been criticised, but creator Eric Chappell defended him by saying he ‘was not a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers’. There were also jokes about Leonard Rossiter’s character having a black medical student as a tenant. Rising Damp is still available to watch via Prime and ITV Hub.
The prank call show often featured accents
Channel 4’s show about prank calling often featured accents from ethnic minorities. Star Kayvan Novak previously said: ‘There’s a weird thing going on at the moment where the more extreme politics and people’s opinions get, the more it seems that comedy on TV is all about playing safe and not offending anyone, when it needs to hold up a mirror and go ‘this is what’s going on now’.’
Only Fools and Horses
Even perhaps Britain’s most beloved sitcom of all time has had to edit old episodes to remove politically incorrect dialogue, such as an episode where Del told a child to ‘pop down to the P**i shop’ – a line no longer broadcast in repeats.
The Two Ronnies
Another one of the nation’s all-time favourites. Many have felt uncomfortable about a sketch titled ‘The Sheikh in the Grocery Store’, which features Ronnie Corbett wearing dark makeup and an Arabic keffiyeh, mispronouncing the names of items on his shopping list. The Archway School in Gloucestershire had to apologise for showing the clip to parents after complaints were made.
Fantasy Football League
David Baddiel as Jason Lee
Ex-Nottingham Forest star Jason Lee, who was often a target of ridicule on the 90s show, said David Baddiel’s depiction of him was ‘a form of bullying’.
The Mighty Boosh
Noel Fielding as ‘The Spirit of Jazz’
Noel Fielding portrays ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ – a black, dreadlocked character in the BBC series, sparking much discussion over racism. Fielding has also been in hot water after a picture emerged of him painted black while dressed as tennis star Bjorn Borg.
In Little Britain, David Walliams wore make up to play health-spa guest Desiree DeVere.
In Come Fly With Me, he played ‘passenger liaison officer’ Moses Beacon and airline boss Omar Baba, while Lucas’ characters included coffee shop worker Precious Little.
Last month both Matt and David took to Twitter to apologise for Little Britain’s use of blackface, with David writing: ‘Matt & I have both spoken publicly in recent years of our regret that we played characters of other races. Once again we want to make it clear that it was wrong & we are very sorry.’
The Mighty Boosh and The League Of Gentlemen were also removed from streaming services, along with a 1975 episode of Fawlty Towers, due to fears it would cause offence with its use of racial slurs.
Fans have also called for the beloved comedy series Gavin and Stacey to be removed from BBC iPlayer.
Critics called for the popular show, written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, to be pulled in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, but BBC have confirmed they are no plans for the series to be pulled.
The main bone of contention stems from characters described in the show as ‘Chinese Alan’ and ‘Seth, the black fella’.
Matt Lucas previously said if he could go back and remake the previous series of Little Britain he would not play black characters.
In 2017 he told Big Issue: ‘If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.
‘Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.’
He added there had not been ‘bad intent there’ and they had simply been showing off about ‘what a diverse bunch of people we could play.’
In the interview Lucas said it was ‘lazy’ for white people to ‘get a laugh just by playing black characters’.
Iconic role: The actor is teasing a big screen outing for the unorthodox British detective Luther
David Walliams also said that the show would definitely make a comeback but acknowledged he would change things.
He said: ‘I would say there will definitely be some more Little Britain coming. I can’t say when exactly but at the right time and place. It was fun coming back for radio because that’s where we started.’
He added that he would ‘definitely do it differently’ in today’s cultural landscape.
The decision comes as Netflix was earlier this year said to have been in discussions with Lucas and Walliams about making a new series of Little Britain for the streaming giant, in a lucrative deal.
Get your copy: Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times
Huge demonstrations, many organised by the Black Lives Matter Group, have helped spark renewed debate on racism in recent weeks.
The protests intensified after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25 for nine minutes.
In the Radio Times interview, Idris also discussed how it felt being one of the first high-profile names to contract coronavirus, saying he is not fully recovered but the experience had a ‘traumatic’ effect on him.
The Wire actor said: ‘Mentally, it hit me very bad, because a lot was unknown about it.
‘I felt very compelled to speak about it, just because it was such an unknown. So the mental impact of that on both myself and my wife was pretty traumatic.’
It comes after Elba hinted that there could be a film version of his hit detective series Luther.
He said: ‘I’ve made it very clear that I’d like to see Luther come back as a film. And I can tell you this, that we are this close to making a film of Luther.’
The news that a feature version of the series may definitely be on the cards was first reported by London’s Sky News.
Luther premiered in 2010 and garnered rave reviews and a loyal following.
It also made a star of Ruth Wilson who played narcissistic murderer Alice Morgan and went on to star in Showtime’s The Affair and the film Saving Mr. Banks.
The fifth season of Luther was broadcast in January 2019 and ended on a cliffhanger with plenty of loose ends that could be explored in a movie version.
Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times.
Happening? ‘I’ve made it very clear that I’d like to see Luther come back as a film. And I can tell you this, that we are this close to making a film of Luther,’ the actor, 47, said Tuesday
Hit series: Luther premiered in 2010 and garnered rave reviews and a loyal following. It also made a star of Ruth Wilson who played narcissistic murderer Alice Morgan, pictured