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'TV has lost touch with reality'

"Let's have a Magna Carta of British Broadcasting."

With those words, celebrated actor Idris Elba begins (Luther, The Wire) his closing remarks in the British Parliament. For the past half hour, he has been speaking to the Lords and Ladies in a friendly yet persuasive way about the need and opportunities for diversity in British television.

The timing of this speech was perfect, because in January, the whole (tweeting) world had to get worked up again about the 100% white Oscar nominations with the hashtag #Oscarssowhite. Stars announced a boycott and the Academy finally decided to change the system this year. Not all members can remain members for life anymore.

All justified anger and outcry notwithstanding, it is nice how Elba chooses nuance here in this speech, to focus on diversity and not skin colour.

"I'm not here to talk about black people, I'm here to talk about diversity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour -- it's gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and - most important of all, as far as I'm concerned - diversity of thought."

(Photo: Matt Dunham, AP)
(Photo: Matt Dunham, AP)

Following the rules of art, he pulls out all kinds of arguments to make his point. Television is supposed to be the window on the world while the discrepancy between what you see on television and what there really is in the world in terms of diversity is far too great. He makes the comparison with sport, 'by investing you can win gold', quotes Churchill like any right-minded Brit, of course, and pokes fun at British pride in wanting to be better, in wanting to do better.

As a speaker, Elba is so relaxed, unassuming and friendly that it almost gets boring. It is a relief when he at least becomes substantively menacing and argues that audiences these days have something to choose from. If people don't recognise themselves in ' the window on the world', they go to Youtube, Netflix or one of those many other online options. Broadcasters have lost their monopoly as providers and will have to change. That process may well become a lot more interesting if they do so not only because of ratings but also because being on the right side of history is, after all, much more satisfying.

The NPO announced this January that it was going to make diversity more important. Let's hope they heed Elba's words.

"When you get out more, you see there's a disconnect between the real world and TV world. People in the TV world often aren't the same as people in the real world. And there's an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. I should know, I live in the TV world. And although there's a lot of reality TV, TV hasn't caught up with reality."

Hannah Roelofs

Dramaturg, speech coach and student English teacher.View Author posts

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