Black 'Thor' Actor Blasts Debate Over His Casting

Idris Elba in "Thor."
Idris Elba in "Thor."
 Courtesy of Marvel Studios

“It’s so ridiculous,” Idris Elba says as The Hollywood Reporter magazine looks at colorblind casting and the shrinking roles for African-American actors before Friday's NAACP Image Awards.

In the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Washington was cast in the title role of Maj. Bennett Marco, the character played by Frank Sinatra in the original. The casting raised eyebrows, but the film went on to gross north of $96 million worldwide.

Taraji P. Henson, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, says there is still a certain mind-set in Hollywood that keeps studios from casting a wider net and using actors of different ethnicities. And until that changes, opportunities will continue to be limited.

"We are petitioning in negotiations for a role they weren't even thinking about. They're just indifferent," she says. "My people question why a character has to be black, or anything."

Most say Hollywood needs to do a better job if it is to reduce the glaring disparity in terms of the number of blacks onscreen and behind the camera.

In an interview with THR, Singleton says that with expanding diversity in this country and a globalized consumer audience, he hopes that the entertainment industry will cultivate markets for performers of color -- men and women -- and take the same risks that are taken with white artists.

"I think if the playing field were, in fact, level, we would find that audiences around the world would buy good storytelling and consume good storytelling," he says.

Television arguably has a better track record in terms of colorblind casting. Diversity became a popular story line about a year ago, when the tide turned at the broadcast networks. (It wasn't a surprise when media outlets began to label it the Obama Effect.)

Although the five networks still carry a lack of programming specifically geared to an African-American audience -- a void left by UPN's exit and filled only on cable by TBS and BET -- their slates increasingly feature minority leads.

CBS led the way with Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (Forest Whitaker), NCIS: Los Angeles (LL Cool J) and CSI (Laurence Fishburne), while NBC backed the since-canceled Undercovers, which featured two black leads in Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe.

ABC shows including Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, both created by African-American producer Shonda Rhimes, feature black actors as part of their ensemble casts.

Cheadle has personal experience with colorblind casting. The role he plays in the upcoming Showtime series House of Lies was written for a middle-aged Jewish man.

But it doesn't mean he wants to hide who he is, or his cultural background.

"A white Jewish guy in the part would play it differently," Cheadle says. "I want to make a virtue of that difference. Don't make me uncomplicated. Dogs are the only things that are colorblind, and even they see shades."

NAACP Image Awards

Where: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles

When: 5 p.m. Friday, March 4

Watch: Fox, 8 p.m. ET/PT (live in East)

Hosts: Holly Robinson Peete and Wayne Brady

Continued on next page: UPCOMING FILMS: A Snapshot of Black Hollywood 2011.

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