Idris Elba stresses the importance of ‘paying it backwards’ in Bafta Special Award speech

Marissa DeSantis
·2-min read
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Idris Elba was honoured with the Bafta Special Award for his contributions to television as an actor, writer and producer at the 2020 virtual ceremony. But the 47-year-old used his acceptance speech (given via video) as an opportunity to encourage his peers to help each other out.

“I don’t believe that I’m very special,” Elba said, though he noted how appreciative he felt to be receiving the accolade.

“I believe that what I’ve been given is an opportunity, and what I’ve done is taken my opportunity and handed it backwards,” he said, explaining that he “handed it to other people that need that opportunity.”

Idris Elba at the 2018 Evening Standard Theatre Awards (Getty Images)
Idris Elba at the 2018 Evening Standard Theatre Awards (Getty Images)

Elba founded his production company, Green Door Pictures, in 2013, as a means to champion diversity and inclusivity in the industry. “That is something that I didn’t plan to do, it’s just a natural feeling - it’s a natural reaction,” Elba said of giving back.

Born and raised in East London, Elba said that he felt “grounded” because of his upbringing. “I know that in East London, we try to treat people with respect because everyone comes from the same cloth,” he said. “In the world of film and television, nothing is different in that sense,” he continued, adding, “No one is different.”

Elba called upon his peers in the industry to follow his lead. “I am hoping that from this point on in this world, in this junction, that everyone sees that you can’t make it without anyone else - that we all think about paying it backwards to the person behind you so they get an opportunity,” he said.

“That’s why I think I have got this award. One day I might get an acting award. But until that day, I am going to make more opportunities for more actors, more writers and more people to come and tell their story.”

Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba during Global Citizen's
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba during Global Citizen's

The 2020 TV Baftas took place as a virtual, socially-distant ceremony on July 31 after being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Early on in the pandemic, Elba shared that he and his wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, tested positive for the virus in March. Both remained quarantined at home, and though Elba later shared he was asymptomatic, he noted the “mental impact” it had on him and his wife was “pretty traumatic.”

See a full list of TV Bafta winners here.

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