Idris Elba Rejects Claims of Plagiarism and Discrimination in Making 'Tree' Play

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Idris Elba

Two female writers claim they helped develop the play but that Elba and director Kwame Kwei-Armah removed them from the project without proper credit.

Actor Idris Elba has rejected accusations made by two British female writers who say they helped develop Tree, a new play by Elba and British director Kwame Kwei-Armah, but were dropped from the project without proper credit.

The women said so in a blog post July 2, ahead of Tree's July 4 premiere at the Manchester International Festival. The play is set to run at Young Vic theater in London from July 29 to Aug. 29.

Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin claim they conceived the original idea for the show — the story of a London-born mixed-race man forced by a family tragedy to return to his parents' homeland in South Africa — and worked for four years on the project with Elba. But, they claim, they were dropped shortly before Tree went into production. Their story was first reported in The Stage magazine.

In a tweet on Thursday, Elba wrote that Tree, in fact, resulted from his experiences making Mi Mandela, an album of music Elba produced in South Africa in 2014 inspired by his late father and his performance as Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Elba said Allen-Martin — who was a singer on the Mi Mandela album — and Henley were involved in the initial workshopping of the project but decided to leave when Elba and Kwei-Armah chose a "new direction" for the play.

"They expressed their reasoning and we respected their decision," Elba wrote, adding that both women have been credited in the forward of the program printed for the play's first preview in Manchester. He, however, reiterated that Tree was based on his original idea and that he had the right to go ahead with the project without the two women.

"We wanted to offer an opportunity to support these new writers while creating a piece of work of scale and to a director's vision," Elba wrote. "The outcome is an accusation of plagiarism and discrimination."