The civil rights protests in response to the death of George Floyd – an African American victim of racially-motivated police brutality – have renewed the debate of how to combat racism effectively. As with any social problem, the answer is by no means obvious or simple. Over the past few weeks, then, politicians, celebrities and internet users have debated each other on which approach is best.
One particular aspect of that debate has to deal with racist entertainment. Thanks to the internet, films and shows from bygone eras exhibiting outdated values and uninformed opinions have become accessible again. Since these bits of content contain hate speech, some say they are best left forgotten or destroyed. Others argue they should be kept, and have compelling reasons to boot such a claim.
When talking to reporters over at Radio Times, English actor and rapper Idris Elba sided himself with the latter of these two camps. Namely, he said that films and series which include “racist themes” ought not to be censored because viewers should know that they exist, and were once commonplace in the entertainment landscape.
“I think, moving forward, people should know that freedom of speech is accepted,” Elba said, “but the audience should know what they’re getting into.” His solution provides a compromise between those on the left – who want to combat hate speech – and those on the right – who want to protect free speech. “I don’t believe in censorship,” he adds. “I believe that we should be allowed to say what we want to say.”
Idris Elba isn’t the only one who holds this opinion. Black filmmaker and activist Spike Lee, for instance, recently called racist classics like Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation required viewing for white audiences insofar as they offer a window into a past that would otherwise be left forgotten.