How important is Luther’s Blackness to the storyline? (Picture: BBC Pictures)
Being Black in the UK can often mean your existence and identity is constantly defined by other people.
In fact, being ‘othered’ is unfortunately par for the course; we’re in gangs, we’re aggressive or we’re lumped in with other communities whose experiences are completely different to ours and called BAME.
One thing we sure aren’t is a monolith.
This is why when the BBC’s creative diversity chief, Miranda Wayland, reportedly said that Idris Elba’s character Luther didn’t feel ‘authentic’ because he didn’t have Black friends or eat Caribbean food, it gave me whiplash.
My immediate thought was: Is this really how we’re defining Black characters now?
Luther has so far run for five series since 2010 and one of the key traits of the police detective is the air of mystery surrounding who he truly is and where he comes from.
One look at his soulless east London flat will tell you this is a man whose life is about the job and very little else.
Not to say that Luther is a poorly-written, one-dimensional protagonist but, when it comes to his personal life, he kind of is. Keeping this air of mystery is clearly tantalising enough for viewers who have kept the series going for a decade.
Idris has led the successful crime drama since 2010 (Picture: Rex)
We’ve never seen Luther’s real friends outside of his police force colleagues and we know nothing about his family aside from his wife Zoe (Indira Varma). We’ve barely seen the man eat a home cooked meal let alone devour a plate of West Indian cuisine like curried goat or jerk chicken.
Also, why only Caribbean food? Could Luther not enjoy jollof rice from African countries as much as England’s traditional fish and chips too? In real life, if a Black person eats more English meals or other worldly-cuisines, does that make their Blackness less ‘authentic’?
I can’t imagine it would be particularly groundbreaking for the plot if we did see Luther ordering jerk chicken from his local takeaway.
We need to stop placing Black people in a box and saying this is who we are.
Some of us might enjoy listening to rock music just as much as Afrobeats and dancehall, while others may just happen to have more white friends because of where they grew up.
There may be Black people who have had more interracial relationships than not because they just happened to find chemistry with someone who doesn’t have the same skin colour.
Luther’s mysterious nature is a key trait of the troubled police detective (Picture: BBC Picture)
We may all identify as Black but we are still individual people and it’s damaging to measure our Blackness by superficial factors like food and friendships.
I understand the importance of representing African-Caribbean cultures on British TV and normalising our existence. However, instead of superficially judging the Blackness of a character like Luther, we should instead be celebrating the fact that Idris – as a Black man – has overcome obstacles to lead one of TV’s most popular crime dramas of the past decade without race playing a part.
On the BBC, might I add.
Sometimes it is necessary to see Black characters embracing their cultural heritage, like in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe for example, while other times it’s refreshing for TV to be colourblind.
Case in point, Bridgerton. The Netflix series featured several prominent Black leads but race wasn’t the storyline at all, save for one brief mention, and it has become one of the most-watched programmes in the streaming platform’s history.
It’s equally important to have shows like Luther with a Black lead who hasn’t been cast just because the colour of their skin is essential to the storyline.
Black people do exist outside of being Black – and whatever you think that means.
Idris hasn’t directly addressed Wayland’s comments but he did write in a social media post that we ‘must not pull ourselves backwards, only push ourselves forward’, and he’s right.
Defining Black people as stereotypes only sets us back decades and does nothing to change the way society views us.
Because again, what we most certainly are not as a group is a monolith.
Credit: Original article published here.